Vicksburg woman walking 1,000 miles to fight cancer

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 8, 2001

[10/05/01]Just over a year ago, Janet Kelley’s sister went to a doctor for her annual checkup. A mammogram showed some suspicious growths in her breasts. A month later, her sister underwent a double mastectomy.

“When someone you love goes through this, you wish it were you, not them,” said Kelley, a management analyst with the U.S. Navy at the Engineering Research Development Center in Vicksburg. But instead, all she could offer her sister, who lives in Texas, was emotional support. “I said I’d walk 1,000 miles to keep someone else’s sister from going through this. Little did I know.”

This weekend, Kelley will make good on her pledge. She, along with her sister and other family members, are in Atlanta for a three-day, 60-mile walk to raise money and awareness for the disease.

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“I’ve walked 952 training miles, and as of Sunday, with the 60-mile walk, that will put me over 1,000 miles.”

Kelley, a petite blonde who teaches kickboxing at Bowmar Baptist Church, started training for the Avon-sponsored event almost a year ago. She started by walking short distances, then built up to 10 miles a day during the week, and longer, 12 to 16 miles, each Saturday and Sunday.

While she has walked some with a marathon group in Jackson, the bulk of her training was in the Vicksburg National Military Park. “I’d say 900 of my 950 miles were here in this park,” she said.

She laughed as she remembered one man she kept passing on the road as he stopped to look at monuments from his car. “At the 12-mile marker, he got out, with his hands on his hips and said How far are you going to walk?'”

Walk organizers warn participants that the event will take place regardless of the weather, so walkers are encouraged to brave the elements while training. “I’ve walked through everything, from last winter’s snow to this summer when it was up in the 90s with a heat index over 100,” she said. “Come rain or shine, cold or hot, we’re going to walk.”

Avon started the three-day events three years ago with a walk in Los Angeles. In 2000, three-day walks were held in seven cities, raising $43 million for breast cancer awareness and research. The 2001 events will be in nine cities; 2002 will increase to 12.

Participants are given 12 hours to walk the 20 miles each day and are encouraged to keep a leisurely pace, to talk with others and share their stories; “to remember the ones who are lost and celebrate the ones who are surviving,” Kelley said. Gear trucks carry participants’ bags and tents, and monitors check with each participant throughout the day to ensure they are OK. “They take very good care of us,” she said.

Five other women from Mississippi will be walking at the Atlanta event. Kelley said they keep in frequent contact through e-mail and two have come to Vicksburg to train with her.

To take part in the event, each walker must pay a $55 registration fee and raise $1,900 in pledges. “That’s what scared me, but people have been so awesome,” she said. “I’m amazed people are so receptive.” She’s raised just more than $4,000 for the event.

When she walks this weekend, a pink, laminated bow will be pinned to her back; on it will be the names of 17 breast cancer survivors and three victims family and friends of the 54 people who sponsored her for the walk. “Look at this percentage here only three of 20 are victims. The rest are survivors,” she said. “Because of early detection and treatment, we’re getting close to a cure.”

Her sister, who has recovered from the cancer, was asked be a part of the Circle of Survivors, a group of six walkers selected from thousands of participants to lead the opening ceremonies and officially start the Atlanta walk. “I’m so proud of her,” she said. “If I can help one person through this, then every step will have been worthwhile.”