Care to Walk celebrates 20 years of support for those affected by cancer


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NORTH BRUNSWICK – Twenty years of stories. Twenty years of memories. Twenty years of diagnoses, treatments and recovery. Twenty years of heartbreak. Twenty years of fundraising. Twenty years of hope for a cure.

North Brunswick’s Care to Walk event marked its 20th year on Oct. 28, with hundreds of survivors, friends, family members, community members and medical staff walking to raise funds for prevention, early detection, research and hopefully a cure for breast and ovarian cancer.

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Since the first event was held two decades ago, members of the Care to Walk Committee and the Care to Walk Club at North Brunswick Township High School have raised close to a half million dollars for the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

“North Brunswick, thank you so much for 20 years,” said Evelyn Smirnow, whose own battle with the disease sparked the creation of Care to Walk in 1999 after she finished chemotherapy and wanted to do something to help spread awareness for breast and ovarian cancer.

“I’m so happy to be here for the 20th anniversary of Care to Walk,” Councilman Bob Davis said, showing off his pink socks. “It’s good to see not only the residents of North Brunswick but residents from outside of town. Hopefully, one day we don’t need to have something like this and we’ll have a cure.”

Dr. Ruth Stephenson, a gynecological oncologist at the Rutgers Cancer Institute, said there are clinical trials open for those women with recurring ovarian cancer.

“It’s our honor and privilege to take care of these brave women,” she said, noting that the support of North Brunswick has been “amazing and overwhelming.”

The event was also supported by members of North Brunswick Volunteer Fire Co. Nos. 2 and 3, and the North Brunswick Police Department – which brought out its patrol car recently outfitted in pink paint for breast cancer awareness.

“Your spirit and support with that pink car all around town has been awesome,” said Lou Ann Benson, director of the North Brunswick Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Services, who is a 20-year breast cancer survivor herself.

The event is organized in part by members of the Care to Walk Club at the high school, whose 50-75 members meet every Tuesday and Thursday after school.

After the opening ceremonies, survivors of any type of cancer took the first lap around the high school track. After, the community at large was invited to join, followed by a vendor fair and activities.

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SIDE BAR: Remembering Marlene Johnson

Editor’s note: The following information is posted on the Care to Walk website, and was read by Marlene’s son Darryn during the Care to Walk event on Oct. 28. Marlene was the designated honoree for the 2018 Care to Walk.

Marlene had extraordinary strength: she was courageous, resilient and gracious.  But above all of this, her greatest love was for her family and friends. She opened her home and heart to many, welcoming them into her family. She always saw the good in others and had a heart of gold.

Her story begins in Springfield. She was born on Aug. 6, 1935, the youngest of seven children. She met the love of her life on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and it was love at first sight for both of them. Marlene and Gary were married on Sept. 11, 1954. She was the mother of three children – Marc, Sharon and Darryn – and grandmother to three beautiful grandchildren, Ryan, Rachel and Kevin. She was Gary’s queen, and he her king. In 2017 they celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary.

Through the years Marlene became an avid sports fan and sat side-by-side with her husband to root on their favorite teams – the New York Giants and the New York Yankees. Oftentimes when family or friends would call during a game, she would politely tell them, “Sorry honey, I’ll call you tomorrow – we are watching the game.”

Some would say that Marlene was gullible and would fall for just about any joke played on her. One person in particular who loved to bust her was her cousin Tony. Everyone would be sitting around the table and he would pick up the phone, say hello and hand it to Marlene saying, “Here Marl, it’s for you.” She would take the phone, say “hello” several times and after getting no response realized that the phone did not ring. She was a good sport though and would laugh saying, “I can’t believe I fell for that again.”

Marlene was part of the Care To Walk events from the beginning, showing support for her son Darryn and her niece Donna who are both cancer survivors.  As early as March, she would start asking Donna, a Care to Walk committee member, when the walk would be that year so she could mark her calendar.

In 2006 Marlene was diagnosed with lung cancer. She fought hard and with her strong faith, numerous chemo and radiation treatments, and her family by her side, she won the battle and was cancer free for 10 years.

That same year, Marlene’s niece Doreen was also diagnosed with cancer and each year since they took that survivor lap together, hand-in-hand, with a smile on their face, thankful for another day, another year, to take that walk along with all of the survivor’s being honored.

Well, after two recurrences, Doreen lost her battle and passed away in April 2017. Marlene was looking forward to the walk that October, as it was being held in memory of Doreen. In August 2017, Marlene was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was faced with an even tougher fight this time around, causing her to miss the walk. Knowing what the walk meant to Marlene, her family presented her with the rose she would have received and she told them that all she could think about that day was taking that survivor lap hand-in-hand with Doreen and it made her smile.

On Feb. 12, 2018, with her family by her side, and holding her king’s hand, the queen lost her battle and passed away peacefully at home. So, on Oct. 28, 2018, although Marlene will not take that survivor lap as she had since 2006, she will once again walk hand-in-hand with Doreen as they both look down, smiling upon each and every survivor who will be taking that lap.

Marlene will be missed by many, but her story does not end. She will live on in the hearts of her family and all who knew and loved her. This time, the phone did ring, as Marlene was called home.

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