BETHLEHEM When 15 people stepped off on a walk in 2004, it was but a slight start to what was to become an enormous event.
This year, hundreds will gather in Bethlehem's Elm Avenue Park for the 8th annual Albany Capital District Walk for Hope, which benefits the Lustgarten Foundation in its mission to find treatment and early detection methods for pancreatic cancer. The race is on Sunday, Sept. 11, at Bethlehem's Elm Avenue Park.
In last year's walk, about 400 turned out and ended up raising over $100,000 for the Lustgarten Foundation. That's a far cry from the first walk in 2004, when $4,000 was raised.
This year, registration and fundraising is putting the walk on the path to exceed even 2010's levels. Corporate sponsorship alone is topping $20,000, including from Rensselaer Honda, which donated proceeds from its June Tom Gorman Memorial Golf Outing to the Lustgarten Foundation, as well.
Some even participate if they can't make the walk.
“Because we've been so successful, it's exhilarating,” said organizer Shari Piper. “We have quite a few virtual walkers, people who register online with their family group and then fundraise in their own geographical area.”
Shari's husband, Neil, has over the years lost his mother, cousin, sister and brother to the disease, and he has felt the touch of pancreatic cancer as well, having undergone a surgery just last year to remove a suspicious growth from his pancreas. It was detected as part of an early detection study at John Hopkins University that was partially funded by Lustgarten.
Neil has made a great recovery and retained 40 percent of his pancreas, which allows him to live healthy and drug-free. He will be walking on Sunday.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most deadly cancer in the U.S., in large part because there is a lack of effective early screening tools or treatments. Since there aren't usually symptoms, most cases of the cancer are caught in the late stages when a recovery is unlikely. Sadly, many of those who participate in the Walk for Hope do so in remembrance of a family member, Shari Piper said.