When Lockport's Mary Marvin found out she had breast cancer three years ago, she was shocked -- just as Wheatfield's Gail Vizzi was this July.
But both women were healthy and smiling Sunday at Western New York's first five-mile walk to raise funds for breast cancer research and programs to fight the disease.
"I found that a horrible thing could be used for a positive," said Ms. Marvin, who is now program director for the American Cancer Society's Western District -- and the facilitator for two breast cancer support groups.
"It's the other women who give me strength," noted Mrs. Vizzi, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy and walked the five miles with her 8-year-old daughter, Angela, at her side.
Nine hundred people, most of them women, participated in the event, "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer," at Buffalo State College.
It raised $77,000 -- with 25 to 30 percent more expected in pledges not yet received, according to spokeswoman Tracy Gnagnarelli.
The walk also raised awareness of breast cancer, which will be diagnosed this year in 14,400 women in New York State.
"Diagnoses are accelerating, mainly because women are more aware," said Ms. Marvin. "There are also more survivors -- because more women are getting treatment."
What concerns Ms. Marvin "is that a lot of young women are being diagnosed."
Both she and Mrs. Vizzi were 38 when they learned they had the disease.
Both decided to face it openly and head-on.
"At the time of the diagnosis, that's all you hear -- cancer!" Ms. Marvin said.
"I could have locked myself up in my house and never talked to anyone, but I ended up getting on my big old soap box. I needed to let other women know that it's OK to have breast cancer."
Pink balloons waved up and down Rockwell Road on the Buffalo State campus as the walkers did their five miles -- most walking with family or friends. More than 20 businesses also participated in the walk, begun four years ago in Boston.
"This is now a national walk," said Gretchen Leffler of Niagara Falls, Western District manager for the American Cancer Society.
It was also one of seven walks this month in major cities in New York State, she noted: "We have people here from Syracuse and other areas who have been on other walks."
Judy Kuntz and Terry Duke, sisters-in-law from Hamburg, did the five miles Sunday in memory of Mrs. Kuntz's sister, Suzie Bellezza of Hamburg, who died in June of cancer.
Mrs. Kuntz, secretary to the president of Erie Community College, and Mrs. Duke, a customer representative for Nynex, were also walking in support of an ECC employee who lost her daughter to cancer.
"Women aren't being quiet about cancer anymore," Mrs. Kuntz said.
Angela Vizzi, a third-grader at Errick Road Elementary School in North Tonawanda, pronounced the walk "fun" and "long" as her mother described her breast lumpectomy and lymph node surgery, both done at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
"My doctors are wonderful -- they do their share, but I also do mine," said Mrs. Vizzi, who also has a 13-month-old son, Timothy Jr.
Ms. Marvin, the mother of two daughters -- Amanda, 21, and Ericka, 18 -- said her mastectomy, including some lymph nodes, and immediate breast reconstruction were also done at Roswell Park.
They were followed by six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.
Today, she takes the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen and gets a checkup every three months.
"I make sure I let people know what I have, and what I've been through," she said. "It's called 'going public with your breast cancer.' "
Vince Ciraolo, a field representative for the American Cancer Society, was one of the few men in evidence as the event wound down.
"This was a great success -- not only in raising money but in raising awareness," he said.
Was he overwhelmed by the number of women at the event?
"I was expecting nothing less!" he said.