Monday, October 30, 2000

11,000 set out to beat breast cancer

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Robin Gunning, a Making Strides walker, has had 15 surgeries.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        She is in constant pain and will be for the rest of her life, but you would never know it to look at this cheerful 44-year-old with wildly curly blond hair. Robin Gunning of Park Hills is happy because she's alive.

        On Sunday, she also was pleased with the record-setting turnout for Greater Cincinnati's fourth annual Making Strides walk, which raises money for breast cancer programs and research.

        “That's the best part, to see your family and friends come in from all over,” Ms. Gunning said of the 17 well-wishers who trekked from as far as Florida to walk 5 miles with her.

        The American Cancer Society event drew more than 11,000 survivors and supporters for a stroll from Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point on the riverfront over to Northern Kentucky and back.

Chris Sexton shows his support for co-worker Gerri Woods.
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        The effort raised almost $600,000, most of which will stay in the area, cancer society spokeswoman Stephanie Scott said.

        Some cancer patients who weren't well enough to walk 5 miles just came for the morale boost.

        “This is very motivational when you're a new survivor, to see people who are 13 years, 15 years, 20 years into recovery,” said Lona Martin, 45, of Edgewood.

        After walkers set off under a pink balloon archway, Ms. Martin made friends with others who bore the marks of a survivor: a pink sash and short hair.

        “I've gotten so used to mine I'm not sure it's going to get much longer,” Ms. Martin said of her inch-long, spiky hairdo.

        Ms. Gunning has her hair, but the 15 surgeries — not just for the cancer, but for the resulting scar tissue, infection and reconstruction — have taken a toll. She has been bedridden on and off for much of the 4 1/2 years since she discovered the lump through a self-exam.

        Her case was worse than many, with the cancer spreading to both breasts and her lymph nodes.

        Ms. Gunning said her doctors “call me the miracle child and the problem child at the same time.”

        She used to be active in sports, playing volleyball and softball, among others.

        “It kills me that I can't do the things I was born to do,” Ms. Gunning says.

        But she wasn't completely surprised by the breast cancer. Her grandmother died of it, and aunts also had it. Six months after Ms. Gunning was diagnosed, her mom, Marlene Gunning, 67, was, too.

        They went to radiation together.

        “I'm next in line,” said sister Kim Gunning, 40, of Fort Wright. “It's not funny, but it is.”

        Robin and Marlene Gunning, meanwhile, look forward to the 5-year anniversaries of their cancer. Those who last that long without a recurrence are considered true survivors for statistical purposes.

        “I really think I've beaten it this time,” Robin Gunning says.


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