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It’s no secret that cancer has affected a large percentage of families everywhere – grim statistics prove that fact.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, the community is invited to take part in the first-ever Cancer Walk under sponsorship of Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center.

This event replaces the long-time walk event up Tenderfoot Mountain under the auspices of the American Cancer Society and is designed to be more family-friendly with a route of about 2 miles around the hospital area and past Frantz Lake.

Medical center event coordinator Emily Haynes said all proceeds will go to an oncology fund administered by HRRMC to benefit local cancer patients.

Haynes said local concerns were raised previously about where the proceeds from the ACS Tenderfoot event were going.

With turnout declining, HRRMC decided to take on a local event with all proceeds going to the hospital’s local oncology fund to be used locally to meet patient needs such as wigs, gas cards for those who have to travel for treatment, help with often-expensive medications, equipment for oncology patients and local massage services, among others.

Haynes said another focus will be local cancer survivors to ensure they feel appreciated and recognized.

Participants should first register by going to the HRRMC website and clicking on the Cancer Walk box. The fee is $35 and includes an event T-shirt. Cancer survivors taking part do not have to pay a fee but must register.

Officials are hoping for about 250 people for this first year’s event, Haynes said. There is no specific fundraising goal.

“We just know it’s a great community event, and we want to keep it. And if we keep all the proceeds local, that’s our biggest goal,” she added.

The event will start with a brief address by local ecologist and cancer survivor Francene Mason at 9 a.m. at the hospital healing garden in recognition of cancer survivors among participants.

Mason is an enthusiastic promoter of healthy diet and exercise as part of cancer treatment, having authored a book on the subject more than two decades ago. Research has proven the validity of that approach to healing.

“I have been very much into integrated oncology to the extent that I believe that it’s very important to tell our patients to take on healthy lifestyle choices to augment their medical cancer care,” she said.

Walkers will leave the hospital about 9:15 a.m., go up the hill on Mesa Lane, walk the paved trail west along the Salida Golf Course then onto the Angler’s Trail, down to CR 154 alongside Frantz Lake and back to the hospital, a distance of just over 2 miles.

Haynes says multiple permits were required, from the city of Salida, Chaffee County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and even the Colorado Department of Transportation since the walk finishes along Colo. Highway 291 back to the hospital.

She said the hospital foundation, sponsors and the Chaffee County Health Department were very helpful in organizing food and refreshments for the walk, making the planning relatively easy.

Jirina Myers, who manages the outpatient infusion clinic, said 15-20 patients are treated daily with six infusion chairs. Expansion of all the specialty clinics will be realized as the hospital’s major expansion is completed.

The hospital provides chemotherapy infusion for all types of cancer as well as infusions for blood malignancies and other blood disorders, some immunotherapy, bone marrow biopsies and blood transfusions under the supervision of Mason and oncologist Wendy Otis. Patients needing radiation treatment are directed to other facilities.

Oncology Physician Assistant Carol Johnson affirmed what most people know – that cancer is what happens when a normal cell mutates and begins to divide too rapidly whether from genetic or environmental factors.

“Practically any cell in the body can develop this problem … can be susceptible to the abnormality,” she added, which is why it can be so difficult to diagnose and treat.

Hospital officials hope the event will grow and continue providing vital resources for local oncology patients.

Sponsors for the inaugural event, in addition to the hospital and the HRRMC Foundation, include Three Eagles Communications, Don’t Go Nuts, Atmos Energy, Xi Epsilon Delta, John and Donna Rhoads, Heart of the Rockies Radiology, The Mixing Bowl, Burmac Enterprises and Collegiate Peaks Bank.

For more information, visit the HRRMC website.