By Erin Silver
Thousands of Bermudians turn up to support the annual BF&M Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, which takes place this year on October 13. If you’ve ever wondered why this event is important or how it impacts you, this is a great time to learn more.
“We’re especially excited about the BF&M Breast Cancer Awareness Walk this year, since it’s the 25th anniversary,” says John Wight, Group Chairman and CEO of BF&M Limited, a leading insurance company in Bermuda and the Caribbean that sponsors the walk each year.
“Every family has been or will be affected by breast cancer, whether it’s your mother, sister, aunt or friend,” says Wight. “Everyone is touched by it one way or another. Breast cancer impacts our community greatly.”
In fact, breast cancer is the number one women’s cancer in Bermuda; one in eight will be diagnosed. That’s why funds raised during the walk support the Equal Access Fund and the Prevention and Early Detection Programmes at the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre (BCHC). Funds raised assist women who can’t afford health insurance to access mammograms and treatment. The need is especially great in 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic left many uninsured or underinsured.
“Anything we can do to support the BCHC and to help the community— we want to be part of that,” says Wight. “It’s what’s at the heart of this event and we always get an overwhelming response from the community.”
Indeed, Bermudians take great pride in helping out. Over the last 10 years, the community of about 65,000 people has raised over $1 million. This year’s goal is to raise another $200,000.
This year, Kristin Burt, wife of the Honourable E. David Burt, Premier of Bermuda, is excited to serve in a special role. “I’m honoured to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month as the Honourary Patron,” says Burt. “In that capacity, I’ll join Lynne Woolridge of BCHC and John Wight from BF&M at the official launch of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and also help to kick off the walk. My children and I look forward to doing the countdown each year, and then we get in a workout as we walk together.”
Woolridge is the chief executive of BCHC. Her role is to be an ambassador for the organization, advocating for the services the Centre provides to the community. For this event, Woolridge works alongside the BCHC and BF&M organizers to do whatever is needed to get the word out about how to participate and contribute to the cause. While the fundraising aspect of the event is very meaningful, the walk isn’t just about money.
“The walk is a tangible demonstration of the support available to those who are affected by this disease, not only through monetary donations, but emotional support for patients, survivors and their caregivers,” says Woolridge. “There is a swell of pride every time we see the sea of walkers wearing their distinctive shirts throughout the city and the island on the day of the walk.” Wight couldn’t agree more.
“Every year, to see people wearing our jerseys and walking through Hamilton to raise funds for such a worthwhile cause gives us so much satisfaction and joy,” he says. “It’s what drives us to do it year after year. With this being 25th anniversary, it’s reason to step back and realize as community what we’ve been able to do together to assist women who have benefitted. Participating in this walk is truly a labour of love.”
Adds Burt: “Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this walk in particular, are the time that Bermuda can take a moment to celebrate the service and support that BCHC provides to so many in our community who are affected by breast cancer. With funds raised from the walk, BCHC is able to provide educational outreach, early detection and radiation treatment and support here on island, so it’s important that Bermuda continues to support this event. In this one event, BCHC and BF&M have been able to educate and entertain walkers, while also honouring survivors and those who’ve sadly lost their battles with breast cancer. This is an amazing event and I’m excited for the opportunity to raise awareness and funds to support the awesome work that BCHC does year round.”
In a regular year, there are often more than 2,000 people next to the BF&M building as the opening ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. Typically, there are two routes, a three-kilometre and a five-kilometre walk, both starting and finishing in Barr’s Bay Park and looping on the outskirts of the city and then back into the city. There’s usually a warm up to get people pumped up before they head out for the 6 p.m. start.
In the park, fruit is usually handed out to participants and health professionals participate in a health fair and are on hand to offer advice and prizes. Once the walk is done, cancer survivors take the stage to share their stories. This part of the evening is called the Survivors’ Ceremony, and it’s about celebrating and honouring survivors.
This year, health and safety protocols will be in place and walkers may have staggered start times to ensure a safe environment. Participants are encouraged to register online for this year’s walk; however, an in-person event is subject to change due to health regulations that may be implemented by the Ministry of Health.
Last year, walkers stayed in their bubbles across the island, rather than gather together in the city, because of the pandemic restrictions. One thing that those who register can count on, even with the pandemic, is that they can still receive a pack which they can collect at BF&M’s drivethrough pick-up event. This year’s pack includes a breathable shirt in a high-performance fabric to celebrate the 25th anniversary. Look out for communications nearer the event for details of this year’s walk.
Wight is looking forward to returning to the kind of in-person, heartwarming event that has taken place every other year. “When I hear the survivor stories on stage, I choke back tears,” says Wight. “Hearing the strength of these women as they fought breast cancer is inspiring.” Wight describes the event as having a positive vibe and he is excited to walk this year.
The walk began in 1996 to bring breast cancer awareness to the community, to honour survivors and to give the community a fun, health-conscious platform to raise funds for breast cancer prevention, early detection and support. Nobody foresaw that it would grow into the celebration it is today. It’s makes the BCHC especially grateful. “The Centre is immensely grateful to our corporate supporter, BF&M Insurance, and the widercommunity for bringing attention to this disease and how we can fight back against it,” says Woolridge. If participants gain one thing from this event, it’s this: “I want people to know that help is available and accessible on the island.”
Woolridge herself has had friends who have been diagnosed, some in the very recent past during this pandemic, which has been a double scare and challenge. That’s why Woolridge offers some personal advice for Bermudians during Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October:
1. Be aware of your own body— check in with yourself regularly to monitor any changes.
2. If you detect a change, don’t be afraid—seek medical advice to determine whether that change is valid.
3. If a change is verified, know that help and support is available— don’t let finances or lack of health insurance be a barrier.
4. Lean on those you consider your “tribe” or “network” to get you through whatever you’re experiencing.
5. Share your story and be an encouragement to others.
Burt has been impacted, too. “My life is better because of the love and support of my great aunt who twice survived breast cancer before I was even born,” she says. “When I think about the impact of the walk, I think of all of the families that will be better because a loved one was able to detect breast cancer early and beat it. I hope that everyone will consider supporting this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Walk.”
For more information and to register,visit www.cancer.bm or www.racedayworld.com.