Walkers rue end of 3-day events

By Anthony Plascencia, Correspondent

October 19, 2002

When 64-year-old Barbara Kirshbaum registered for the Avon Breast Cancer 3-day Walk in 1998, she wasn't so much raising money for breast cancer research as she was testing herself.

"I wanted the physical challenge," the Upland woman said Friday in Oxnard at this year's walk. "I did one walk a year for five years."

After her 36-year-old friend Theresa Villa died of breast cancer one year ago, her drive kicked into high gear. This year, Kirshbaum participated in all 13 of the walks in the United States.

"I'm walking in memory of Theresa," she said.

As the first day of the crusade's three-day walk came to an end in Oxnard on Friday, some participants were bittersweet because this will be the last.

Kathleen Walas, president of Avon's breast cancer foundation, said the decision to stop was based on the need for change.

"We like to change what we do from time to time," said Walas. "We've been doing the three-day walks all over the country for five years."

Walas said the foundation has raised $850 million in 10 years and this weekend should raise another $6 million, half of which will go directly to research and clinical programs. The rest will likely be spent on support services and awareness programs.

Avon plans to continue with other programs, including several two-day events that are already scheduled, said Walas.

"We still have a cause that needs a whole lot of support," said Walas. "There's not enough public funding available."

Now that Avon has decided to discontinue the three-day walks, Kirshbaum isn't sure if she wants to participate in the coming two-day events. But by not participating, she runs the risk of losing sponsors who have helped generate $98,000 for the cause this year alone.

"She's our largest fund-raiser," said Wylie Tene, a spokesman for the foundation.

Breast cancer survivor Roberta De Losantos, 41, of Monterey, also expressed concerns over the decision.

"It's very sad," she said. "I'm committed to the cause."

De Losantos, who was diagnosed in March of 1999 and went through radiation treatment, chemotherapy and several surgeries, participated in all nine of Avon's three-day events last year, bringing in $21,000 for research.

"I lost two friends last year who I met during the walks," she said.

Walas said educating the public about breast cancer will remain a top priority for the organization.

"It's all about awareness," she said. "If we can get more women to receive treatment, that would make it all worthwhile."