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08 column/jj /cl

For years I couldn’t grasp why fundraising walks had become so popular in our community and around the country. Walking in circles in a gym, at a high school track or around Silver Lake seemed like a pretty boring and unimaginative way to raise money for the cause of the day.

But a few years ago, after interviewing a victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease who was raising money for an annual walk, it dawned on me. It’s not about the walk. It’s not about physical exercise, or even getting people to donate a lot of money for medical research or victim support, although those can be worthwhile goals, too.

It’s about solidarity.

The best way I know to explain this emotional connection to others who’ve suffered the same fate is to give you an example.

Two years ago, Margot Potts of Rochester was diagnosed with breast cancer after an abnormality was discovered during a routine physical that included a mammogram.

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She wasn’t alone. It’s now estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, often late in life.

The diagnosis came to Margot with the surprise of a lightening bolt on a clear day. She was 44, the picture of health, with virtually no family history of cancer.

Although the cancer was found in only one of her breasts, she chose to have both of them removed as a precaution for recurrence. She underwent five and a half months of chemotherapy, which caused her hair to fall out, and later a lengthy breast reconstruction process.

She got a ton of support from coworkers, her husband and two grown children. And she has nothing but praise for the medical workers at Mayo Clinic who helped her recover to full health.

But it wasn’t until she took part in the local Join the Journey fundraising walk for breast cancer survivors that Margot fully grasped the meaning of what I’m calling solidarity.

She heard about Join the Journey after two of her co-workers in the CT lab at Mayo Clinic said they were going to do the walk in her honor.

"I said, I want to do it, too. I was still recovering from chemo, but I thought I’d do as much of the walk as I could. We got there and the emotions were just flowing. I walked the entire 10 miles, and I said I’m going to do this every year."

Last year, her children and family members from Texas, where she’s originally from, came to walk with her.

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One of the things that sets the Join the Journey walk apart from many other fundraisers is that the money — every dime of it — stays right here in southeastern Minnesota to help local women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Amenities available free of charge to those who are coping with breast cancer, thanks to Join the Journey, include:

• A massage therapy program.

• The book "Mayo Clinic Guide to Women’s Cancers."

• The Pink Ribbon Mentorship — a program that matches those who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer with survivors who can help provide direction and encouragement.

• A care basket that includes scarves and gift vouchers for groceries, meal delivery and gasoline.

• Materials for "chemo caps," fashioned from comfortable yarn.

The first Rochester Join the Journey walk in 2005 drew 600 walkers. Participation grew to 700 last year, and organizers are shooting for 1,000 next weekend.

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Greg Sellnow’s columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at sellnow@postbulletin.com. Check out his blog, "Losin’ it," on postbulletin.com.

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