I got to speak to some of the women behind Kinsale’s now well-established Pink Ribbon Walk.
Kinsale will be ablaze in a sea of pink on Sunday March 2 for an event that celebrates, commemorates and brings together a community in support of Action Breast Cancer, a programme of the Irish Cancer Society that is devoted to research and support for anyone affected by breast cancer.
This is the third Pink Ribbon Walk and the team behind it are looking forward to building on the enormous successes of the last two years.
So far, they’ve already raised more than €205,000. But they’re especially proud of the power of this event to raise awareness of the disease, and to provide an outlet for people who can sometimes feel alone, whether they are suffering from cancer or love someone who is.
“There’s just so much momentum driving this event,” says Jackie Dawson, the founder of the Kinsale Walk. “It’s real girl power, community power, everything power. It’s a phenomenal occasion, and that’s down to the enormous good will and passion of the people taking part.”
The 10km sponsored walk and run attracted more than 1,000 participants last year, no mean feat for a small community of about 2,500 people. And the whole town gets involved, from the business community, local organisations, sports clubs, schools, the town council, the Gardaí and, of course, the locals. Everyone has a part to play, and they take to it with gusto.
“We had more than 200 people coming to offer themselves as volunteers,” says Caoilfhionn Collins, one of the committee members. “The volunteers have just been incredible, and they do everything from marshalling to fundraising to helping with food. It’s so inspiring.”
Jackie Dawson set up the event after meeting someone who was part of the team of the Kells Pink Ribbon Walk. “She asked me if I would be interested in setting up a sister walk, and it was such a great idea, I couldn’t resist.
“Knowing a few women in Kinsale who had gone through breast cancer treament, the Committee evolved through Caoilfhionn Collins, Maria O’Mahony and myself asking a few more friends to get involved and form a committee for March 2012.
“Lo and behold, we had our first event. We couldn’t believe it when 700 people signed up.” But they did, and they raised more than €100,000.
Logistically, an event like this is a huge undertaking, yet the committee gives freely of their time despite leading busy professional lives.
“I just wanted to give something back,” says Maria, in words that were closely echoed by Caoilfhionn. “Having been in a position of need myself and come out the other side, I suppose you just feel that you want to give to something that is really needed.”
Jackie has been a driving force behind the whole event, and her role cannot be underestimated. “She brought her gifts to the table in such an open and willing way,” says Caoilfhionn. “Having her there gave me the confidence to get involved, and she protects us as well.”
Already Kinsale will be “pinking up”, with bunting and flags going up all over town in the run-up to the event. Pink partners will be gearing up, shop windows will be transformed and people will be out training and seeking sponsorships – all money raised through sponsorship goes directly to charity, while the registration fee covers the cost of the event itself.
“The whole town will be getting out and getting pink!” Says Maria. “And as well as flags and bunting, we have boxes and boxes of pink bras that will be strung up on washing lines on the day of the event.”
The walk/run starts at 12am, but the excitement starts well before then. From 11am, local DJ Anthony Collins will be teaming up with Rogue Fitness to get people’s hearts pumping, while brand Ambassadors Cara O’Sullivan and Sharon Crosbie will be expanding everyone’s lungs with renditions of ‘Stand Up and Fight’ and ‘Amazing Grace’.
The ambassadors then prepare to lead the walkers on a route that takes in gorgeous Kinsale’s prettiest streets, up past St. Multose Church, and then on to the Bandon Road before hitting the lovely back roads towards Whitecastle and the marshes. The road then swings to bring you back towards town alongside the Bandon River.
Of course, all this activity is not just about fund-raising. Ireland has the tenth highest breast cancer rates in the world, according to the World Cancer Research Fund, and a diagnosis can be a terrifying thing. And while medical research is important, it’s just as important to know that you’re not alone.
“The day is a very poignant one for a lot of people. Some take part in memory of someone they love, and some for someone they know who is going through it,” says Maria.
There is a reflection area on site, where people can go and write the name of someone they’re thinking of on a ribbon, and take a time-out to reflect on what they, or the writer, may be going through.
“Seeing all these ribbons, with all these names written on them is absolutely heart-breaking, and incredibly powerful,” says Caoilfhionn, who takes responsibility for the reflection area with one other committee member, Deirdre Hegarty. “But I’ve seen for myself the healing effect that it can have for people. All of these spirits are flowing in the wind, and that truly is the essence of the walk.”
Another essential element is to get people talking about breast cancer, so that when a woman is faced with a diagnosis, she is not afraid to talk about it because that is the only way that she can get the support that she needs.
“It wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t even say the word ‘breast,’” says Caoilfhionn, who lost her own mother to the disease. Her mother was an exceptional character for her time who, when she was first diagnosed, took care to show her children what was wrong and where. Her powerful, open example helped to give Caoilfhionn the strength to fight her way through her own illness, while supporting her own young children through it too.
“We’ve come a long way,” says Caoilfhionn, “To get men involved, to see that it’s not just women who are affected, and that carers have the support that they need going through this. We need to recognise that everyone is going through their own individual journey, so you must keep lines of communication open for people, so they can express what their needs are.”
Men can be affected in more ways than watching a woman they love suffer. 1% of diagnoses of breast cancer are in men.
“We also need to make sure that younger women know to check themselves, and the different steps involved, and the most important thing: not to fear this as an illness.
“If you look after yourself, and you find something in your early stages, and have the confidence to step forward and seek help. Early detection is the key to all of this. And it is shocking how many young women are being affected,” says Caoilfhionn who, as a pharmacist, sees a growing number of young women coming through her doors.
The health-promoting aspects of the event are emphasised by all the committee members, not just in the run-up to the walk, but with the legacy that it leaves afterwards. It could be the kick-start to a healthier lifestyle, indeed a life-saving lifestyle.
Scientists estimate that 42% of breast cancer cases in the UK could be prevented through drinking less alcohol, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.
At the end of the walk, everyone gets a medal, and can tuck in to some restorative nosh from the Kinsale Good Food Circle and hot soup from Cully & Sully, before heading down to the White Lady to catch up with some more of Sharon Crosbie, who can sing a tune like no-one else can.
The organisers hope to attract as many, or more, people this year as last, and link the event’s attractiveness to the location, and the way in which local businesses and organisations all work together to make it happen.
“Bringing together the people that live here, the business community and visitors, it gives a wonderful energy to this,” says Caoilfhionn. “The money is important of course, but the goodwill and the energy are just as important.”
Registration will remain open until the weekend at www.pinkribbonwalk.ie and at Kinsale Pharmacy. The registration fee is €20, and the organisers ask that participants try to raise additional funds that will go directly towards Action Breast Cancer. And don’t forget, “Think Pink!”