Thousands in pink gathered in the Grove under the shade of the green pines and oaks to celebrate and raise money for the 14th annual CARE Walk.
CARE stands for Cancer, Awareness, Research and Education. The walk is sponsored by College Panhellenic and held every year before formal recruitment.
Molly Meisenheimer, 62, helped start CARE Walk in 2004.
Meisenheimer is a cancer survivor herself. She was diagnosed in 1990 at 35 years old. She said she was in the best shape of her life after having two kids, who were 6 and 9 at the time of her diagnosis.
“I didn’t have any of the risk factors and didn’t have any of this in my family,” she said. “It was a complete shock.”
After her mastectomy, Meisenheimer went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to treat her cancer.
“Even though it didn’t look good for a while, I survived and have been very blessed,” Meisenheimer said. “In my healing, I wanted to give back to those less fortunate than me who didn’t have insurance, faith, family and friends’ support.”
Meisenheimer established the Race for the Cure in Memphis and served on the national board of Susan G. Komen for four years. In 2003, she moved to Oxford with her family and was approached by a young woman who was looking to start fundraising locally and whose mother had breast cancer.
“We came up with the CARE Walk,” Meisenheimer said. “We held the first one in the Grove. Panhellenic does most of the work, but they rely on volunteers like us survivors and Baptist to help.”
Panhellenic raises funds every year to help support the mammogram assistance program at Baptist Memorial Hospital.
“It’s really important to see the impact of the money we raise on the entire Oxford community,” senior marketing major and College Panhellenic President Caitlyn Clegg said. “Last year we raised $55,000, which goes toward mammograms for people who are uninsured or underinsured.”
The total number of participants reached nearly 6,000, including members from each Panhellenic sorority and other university and community members.
“We saw it as the biggest opportunity to get everyone together,” Clegg said. “A lot of times, everyone focuses on their own philanthropies, but it’s a great time and gets everyone together to focus on something we all have in common as women. It’s something we all can get behind and support.”
Walkers included students of all ages, volunteers and survivors.
“I’m here to support my friend’s mom,” sophomore integrated marketing communications major Frances Hackney said. “I love seeing the Ole Miss community come together. I love the Greek unity.”
Freshman general studies major Hannah Summers walked for her grandmother. Others like Haleigh Hurt, a junior integrated marketing communications major, and Abby Galyean, a sophomore integrated marketing communications major, walked to support friends.
“I love helping out the Baptist Center and supporting such a great cause,” Galyean said.
Cancer survivor and sophomore marine biology major Julia Sheehan joined in on the walk, as well. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 14 and diagnosed with breast cancer more than a year ago.
“It’s really nice to see people support such a great cause,” Sheehan said. “People who I went through treatment with passed away, and I was lucky enough that I get to come to things like this.”
Participant Carol Wilson, 68, was diagnosed in 2014 at Baptist Memorial Hospital.
“When I was in the hospital, they have a special ward for cancer patients,” Wilson said. “The nurses and doctors are so in tune to what goes on that they take exceptional care of you.”
Wilson said she wanted to push participants to stay on top of their health.
“I’m here to encourage these girls for two things: to keep up the work they are doing because there are a lot of women who don’t have insurance and won’t pay to get a mammogram because they are putting food on the table,” Wilson said. “The second is to encourage them to be in tune with their bodies, not always do the tests find out what’s wrong. If they feel something is wrong, go to the doctor.”
Since 2014, the mammogram assistance program has screened more than 345 free mammograms, 168 free diagnostic procedures, 513 free breast procedures and diagnosed seven cases of cancer.
Wanda Barbour Dent, 62, is the breast cancer navigator at Baptist Cancer Center. Dent meets with any woman who has an abnormal mammogram or ultrasound.
“I make initial contact with the patients and then follow them all the way through the process,” Dent said.
Diagnosed in 2014, Dent herself is a cancer survivor and helps navigate patients from their diagnosis through survivorship.
“One of the greatest barriers to early detection and cure of breast cancer is women who are poor, underserved and lack insurance or money and pay for a mammogram,” Dent said. “With the money provided with this fund, we can ensure women in our community and surrounding communities never have to go without a mammogram.”