December 15, 2018

‘Cancer Warrior’ Shelley Gregory of Old Lyme Walks ‘Across SE CT’ Again, Raising Funds for TBBCF

Small gestures can add up to big things

Shelley Gregory is 10-years cancer-free and will “Walk Across SE Connecticut” tomorrow raising yet more funds for TBBCF.

Shelley Gregory (formerly of Lyme, now of Old Lyme) didn’t get to be one of the top fundraisers for the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation (TBBCF) on her own, she’ll tell you that. She had help from a single benefactor who donates $10,000 each year to her team for the annual Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut marathon fundraiser.

She does not consider herself a survivor – even though she faced her own bout with breast cancer in 2008. She likes to refer to herself as a warrior. And she has the T-shirt to prove it.

And she doesn’t think that walking 11 marathons – and about to walk her 12th on Oct. 6 – is inspiring. She thinks the volunteers at TBBCF, who are so passionate about raising money and handing it out for cancer research, are far more inspirational.

“These people are tireless. It’s their passion,” she said of the volunteers who host the annual 26.2 mile walk in October from Old Saybrook to Harkness State Park in Waterford and the walkers who participate. They raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and 100 percent of the money goes to grants for research.

“I love reading about all the grants they give out. I know they’re really trying to help me and all the women touched by this terrible disease” she said. “They inspire me.”

But you can’t deny – even though she does – that there is something special about this Old Lyme resident who for the past 12 years has walked the walk, and has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the cause.

Even her sons caught the philanthropic fever. They both chose TBBCF as their senior project while attending Old Lyme High school. In 2010 her older son, Sawyer, raised about $2,000 by putting on a concert. And her younger son, Slater, walked in the marathon in 2013 and raised about $2,500. A friend of her son celebrated her birthday by asking people to withhold gifts and donate to TBBCF.

This year, on the 10th anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, Gregory has made a $10,000 donation of her own money to TBBCF.

“I wanted to do something special. I figured 10 years, $10,000 …,”’ she said during a recent interview, downplaying the grand gesture. “I won’t be able to do it all the time. But I could this year. … you don’t have to write about it, do you?”

Sandy Maniscalco, co-founder of TBBCF, said she was speechless when she saw Gregory’s check.

“Wow, Shelley! Your letter and your incredible donation speak volumes about you as a human being,” Maniscalco wrote to Gregory in a thank you.

Gregory walked her first marathon in 2007 after learning about the very first walk in 2006 and then signing up at a table set up at the local farmer’s market. She wasn’t friends with Terri Brodeur, but she knew some of her siblings. She said she doesn’t work out or do jazzercise or any organized fitness, but she loves to walk.

While training for her second walk, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Twelve of her best friends, who became known as the Bunco Babes because of their passion for playing the dice game Bunco, joined her. Following a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, Gregory delayed the start of her chemotherapy for six weeks so she could train for the walk. She said her doctor didn’t like the idea, but Gregory convinced him that the walk was important to her recovery. She and her gang were the last to cross the finish line that year – all smiles and tears and hugs.

She said she loves walking in the marathon and meeting all the participants and all the volunteers at the comfort stations who give out cookies, candy, granola bars, drinks, sometimes flowers and encouragement.

“It’s my favorite day of the year,” she said. “It’s like Christmas to me.”

This year she gave up an offer to go to Italy because she would have missed the walk. “I said no, I have to walk.”

Walking and donating are the ways she can contribute to finding a cure. She likes to quote the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This is her small part, she said.

Gregory said she’ll walk as long as she is able; and if there comes a time when she can’t, she’ll volunteer during the event. Eventually when she has more spare time – she works full time as an executive assistant in Chester – she hopes to become active on the TBBCF Board of Directors.

Editor’s Note (i): Shelley and some of the ‘Bunco Babes’ — Kelley Cahill, Brenda Winters and Julie Edmondson are definites while Jeanne Lucey and Nancy Hallahan are possibles — will all be walking from Old Saybrook to Camp Harkness tomorrow to raise money for the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation.  Their route will take them through Old Lyme — supporters are welcome along the way to cheer them on — the team anticipates crossing the Baldwin Bridge around 9:15 a.m.  Donations can still be made to this worthy cause at this link.

Editor’s Note (ii):  This article is published with the permission of the author Kathleen Edgecomb and the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation, on whose website it was first published.

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For the Love of the Game … and Cancer Research

The organizers of the the 12th annual Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation golf tournament (from left to right) Ronnie Levine, Cathy Burnett and Charlene Amacher are pictured her during the post-event luncheon.

For the three members of the Old Lyme Country Club who organized the 12th annual Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation (TBBCF) golf tournament July 19, it’s personal.

Charlene Amacher, Ronnie Levine and Cathy Burnett have mothers, daughters and friends, who have faced a cancer diagnosis. It is the reason they organized and promoted the annual golf tournament, solicited donations from businesses and prodded their friends into signing up. It is the reason they pledge all of their donations to TBBCF, where 100 percent of gross fundraising dollars goes directly to research. And it’s why they opened up the tournament and invited the male members of the club to participate.

“Everyone has been touched,” said Burnett.

This year, the women raised $6,000 for TBBCF. More than 40 golfers, twice as many as last year, participated in the scramble and about 60 attended the following luncheon, which also featured a raffle and silent auction.

“It was nice to see a sea of pink,” said Amacher, referring to the pink clothing golfers donned for the event. “All the men wore pink. Even the pro was in pink. It was really important to see that.”

Both Amacher and Levine’s mothers had breast cancer. Amacher’s mother was diagnosed when she was in her 70s and died at age 98. Levine’s mother was diagnosed in her 50s and lived until she was 92. Levine also tested positive for the CHEK2 gene mutation, which is linked to a variety of cancers.

Burnett’s daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 37. Now, 14 years later, her daughter is cancer-free and a wife, a mother and a friend.

“There is life after breast cancer,” Burnett said. “The prerequisite is early detection, early treatment and research funding.”

But it is her friend’s story without a happy ending, that still brings Burnett to tears and keeps her motivated to raise money for research.

Burnett and her friend, both nurses, were neighbors in Rhode Island with seven children between them. They carted each other’s kids around to movies, the PTA and swim club. While her friend was battling uterine cancer in 1999, she asked Burnett to play golf with her. Burnett said she was an excellent tennis player but had never before played golf. She took a few lessons.

The two friends went out on a par-3 course called Firefly and started hitting balls. They quit after six holes but laughed all the way through. They played together once a week through the spring and early summer – never talking about cancer but having a grand old time on the course congratulating themselves for “not being so bad” and “not being the worst team.”

“We had the best time,” Burnett said. “We were so funny.”

When her friend called one day to tell her she wasn’t strong enough to play any longer, she confessed that for months, the only time she got out of bed was to play golf. Her friend died in 2000, and Burnett tossed golf balls into her grave and figured she would never play again.

But life had other plans for Burnett. After her husband of 40 years died from an occipital lobe glioma, a type of brain tumor, Burnett remarried in 2014 and the newlyweds moved to Old Lyme where she joined the country club.

“I came out here and I didn’t know a soul,” she said. “I hit my first golf ball over the clubhouse.”

She also learned about the annual fundraiser for TBBCF.

“The fact that my daughter is a survivor is a gift,” she said. “We need all the money to go to research. Every little bit they learn brings us closer and closer to a cure.”

Burnett stayed in touch with her friend’s four daughters, attending their weddings, bat mitzvahs and talking to them about their risk of getting breast cancer. Three of the four daughters tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, and one was diagnosed with breast cancer while in the hospital after just delivering her first child. After having children, the three with the mutated gene opted for bilateral mastectomies, hysterectomies and oophorectomies. Today, all are healthy and they have 11 children between them, Burnett said.

Early detection and arming yourself with information is the key, Burnett said.

“It’s important to pound into young people’s heads to go to their mammograms and do breast self-examinations,” she said.  “Young people think it can’t happen to them. But it can.’’

TBBCF honors Terri Brodeur, a young mother of three, who died from breast cancer in 2005. The non-profit was established in 2006 by two friends, Norma Logan and Sandy Maniscalco, who wanted to raise money to go directly for cancer research. Norma died of breast cancer shortly after Terri. Each year the organization awards three $100,000 research grants from money it raises throughout the year..

The signature fundraising event is the Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut marathon, which is being held Oct. 6, 2018. For information about the walk call (860) 437-1400 or visit tbbcf.org or email info@tbbcf.org.

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