OXFORD – Kim Townsend’s bubbly disposition contrasts with a serious purpose that’s never far from her mind: Breast cancer declared war on her family, and she’s fighting back.
“My Aunt Glenda was diagnosed in 2007,” said the Brookhaven native. Glenda Calcote fought back for three years, undergoing both surgery and chemo, but ultimately lost her battle early this year.
One of the ways Townsend keeps the fight going is raising money for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization.
Soon after her aunt was diagnosed, Townsend saw a promotion for the Komen “3-Day” – a walk involving thousands of women (and men) over a long weekend to support breast cancer research and awareness. Participants raise money ahead of time, then walk for three days through major cities, drawing public and media attention throughout.
“It’s a lot of training, and you spend a lot of time fundraising ahead of time,” she said.
The first year she had to raise $2,200, plus her expenses to go to the walk in Dallas.
Townsend said her involvement has been nothing but an enriching experience.
“It is first about raising money to find a cure and get better treatment,” she said, noting she has a new goal of $4,600 to participate in both Dallas and Atlanta.
“It’s a lot of bake sales and car washes, but I have a lot of fun doing it,” Townsend said. “People tell you ‘Thank you for what you’re doing.’ That’s not why I do it, but it’s really encouraging.”
Participation in the 3-Days is an immersion into a culture of cheers and tears that reflect the losses and fears many participants have experienced, along with the hopefulness of doing something to combat the common enemy.
The daily routes are marked off through each host city, and while some people walk in groups, Townsend says she prefers meeting new walking partners throughout the event.
“You connect with all these people that have their own stories of why they’re walking, why they’re involved,” she said. “People talk to you along the way; they encourage you, and they tell you not to quit. It’s a huge support network.
“There are thousands of people who volunteer as crew members. They hand out drinks, hold up signs and cheer us up. Even the local schools will get involved,” Townsend added. “The whole time you’ll feel supported: Just when you feel you can’t make it, somebody’s out there saying, ‘Come on!’”
While the overarching purpose of both the 3-Days and other Komen events (such as the North Mississippi Komen Race for the Cure, scheduled for Oct. 23) is to raise funds for research and treatment, they also offer both an outlet for emotion and a way to draw attention to the disease and the need for screening.
One of the most eye-catching elements is the color pink. At the 3-day events, it becomes a focus everywhere along the route, including the pink Tent City in which participants camp overnight.
“You walk near really busy places, in neighborhoods, all over,” Townsend said. “There’s all this pink, people in boas, crazy socks, crazy outfits.”
Sometimes even husbands and other male family members of breast cancer survivors get into the act.
“You even see a lot of men in drag – a lot of pink wigs and bras – for a good cause,” she said.
Townsend will receive her degree in liberal studies next spring at the University of Mississippi on the same day her husband, Chris, graduates from law school. Her aim has been a career in design, but that aim is a little less firm that it once was.
“Some people say I really ought to work for Susan G. Komen for the Cure,” she said, “since it’s taken over my life.”
ERROL CASTENS / Daily Journal Oxford Bureau