Inaugural Event is Dear to Survivor’s Heart
On Oct. 9, more than 200 participants gathered in downtown Canton for the inaugural Think Pink Cherokee Breast Cancer Awareness Walk. The event featured live entertainment, awareness activities and a reception for all participants in the 1-mile informational walk. We asked Canton’s Downtown Development Manager, Velinda Hardy, about her experience as a breast cancer survivor, and how Think Pink Cherokee came to be.
1. Tell us about your personal experience with breast cancer.
I am a 23-year survivor. When I found my cancer, I had three young children; my youngest was 10 months old. I was my best advocate, because I saw it. I found it during the summer of 1998. I got back from the beach, and I saw something in a mirror that wasn’t right. I didn’t wait. I immediately picked up the phone and called the doctor’s office. I had a mastectomy and went through chemo and radiation. I never asked, why me? Because, why not me? God gives you what you can handle. I can talk to a brick wall, so I can help others by sharing my story with no hesitation.
2. How did your experience lead you to organize this event?
Think Pink happened while I was still in my hometown, Opelika, Alabama. So many people were taking care of me while I was fighting my cancer; I had an overwhelming urge to give back. I wanted to raise awareness and put information out there. I wondered if the local hospital did anything, so I asked my friend who was working there. We reached out to people at the cancer center, and they listened to what I had to say. They asked what I wanted to do, and left it up to me. At the time, I had the same position I have here in Canton. We had T-shirts and a 1-mile walk with signs showing helpful information. It was a great day. It wasn’t planned, but people started handing us money like crazy. They set up a foundation there at the hospital for underserved and uninsured citizens to get mammograms, and it is still going strong 17 years later.
I started working in Canton in 2019, but it was too late in the year to successfully organize an event. Then, COVID-19 put a hold on events in 2020. But, this year, I took the same thing I did in Alabama and did it here. We needed an event to keep the money local, for our citizens. So, I contacted Northside; they were in, and everything grew from there.
3. What does Think Pink Cherokee look like in the future?
We had an overwhelming response, and we’re already thinking about next year. I want to add a Hope Luncheon to the event that will bring people together, as well as Portraits of Hope, to display downtown, so survivors can tell their stories next year. Sharing stories gives others hope.
4. What advice do you have for women?
Early detection is key. If people tell me that they think they have a lump, I ask them, have you gone to the doctor? We are our own best advocates. Trusting your body and your gut is the biggest thing. I know it’s scary, but you have to think of your family and yourself. As women, we take care of others and put them first. Don’t put yourself on the backburner; put yourself first for once. You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.
5. What was the most memorable part of the event?
The most memorable part of the event was seeing all those pink shirts walking down the street and every person that came out to show their support. It’s about celebrating what we have gone through and honoring the ones who may not have made it through their fight. I am thankful I had a small part of making something so great in Cherokee County for years to come.