By Ann Reily
---- — Breast cancer research and treatment have come a long way since Marilyn Flaherty was first diagnosed 31 years ago.
And Flaherty, now a three-time survivor who turns 65 next week, has been a big part of that. She has been volunteering since her first diagnosis and has worked with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer since its inception two decades ago. Her Making Strides walk team has raised $12,000 and is working toward a $6,500 goal for this year’s Boston walk, which is next Sunday.
Flaherty was 34 with two young children when she underwent treatment for the first time. She recalls weekly chemotherapy for a year and a long wait for biopsy results. Her second diagnosis, in 1991, came with more chemotherapy and radiation.
Within a few weeks of her third diagnosis three years ago, she had a double mastectomy, something that wasn’t even an option the first two times. She had more chemotherapy, but this time, it was delivered every three weeks over a period of three months.
“The difference between what I went through then and three years ago was phenomenal,” Flaherty said. “They found it and let me know that day.”
Each year, Flaherty recruits more people and places to help her in the fight against breast cancer. Last year, Newburyport High School hopped on board, and this year, the Molin and Nock schools are also joining the cause.
The high-schoolers, who raised $2,500 last year, will be selling items such as T-shirts that say “I Pink I Can” and pink shoelaces, while the younger students will offer pink pencils and pink rubber bracelets. The pink theme continues with decorations for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a “Wall of Hope” that honors loved ones touched by breast cancer.
“The students love to be involved in things,” Flaherty said. “People forget that the kids suffer from this, too.”
The high school sports teams will also show their support by adding pink accents to their uniforms during the month of October. The soccer team even has new pink nets, ordered by athletic director Bob Clarke, who Flaherty said is a big part of the effort along with teacher Susie Galvin, the senior class adviser.
The Newburyport schools hold a special place in Flaherty’s heart. She was working as the assistant to Superintendent Francis Bresnahan, who died of colon cancer in 1993, when she got her second diagnosis and said the support from her co-workers was incredible.
“When I was working there, I was going through my cancer, and so was Francis Bresnahan,” said Flaherty, who was a longtime Newburyport resident before moving to Hampton, N.H., last year. “They wrapped their arms around me.”
Bresnahan’s daughter Mary Anne Clancy, the vice president of communications at the Institution for Savings, has also been instrumental in Flaherty’s fundraising.
“She came to us three years ago,” Clancy said. “She had this vision of making Newburyport a pink community for the month of October. It’s obviously a cause that is very, very personal to her.”
The bank has embraced the color, changing all of its deposit slips to pink for the month of October and printing breast cancer messages and tips on coin envelopes. Employees also wear their support on Pink Tie Tuesdays and Pink Fridays.
Businesses can also sponsor pink ribbons on downtown light posts for $100, and raffle baskets are set up in all of the branches.
“We really go pink for the entire month,” Clancy said. “The theme this year is, ‘We’re banking on a cure.’”
The Institution for Savings is raising money both for Team Flaherty and the new Gerrish Breast Care Center, which is opening at Anna Jaques Hospital later in October. The bank’s main office on State Street also drew some stares a couple of weeks ago when 80 employees gathered on the front steps to film a segment for Anna Jaques’ entry in the Pink Glove Dance Competition, which awards a $25,000 donation to the winning hospital’s breast cancer charity of choice.
“It’s all about drawing attention to this issue that touches everyone,” Clancy said. “It’s near and dear to our hearts at this point.”
Other businesses contributing to Team Flaherty include Abraham’s Bagels, which is donating a portion of proceeds next Friday and hosting a breakfast the same day at Newburyport High School, and Shanti Salon, which raises money through the sales of pink headbands and pink extensions.
In addition to husband Casey and children Kyle and Maggie, who are in their 30s now, Flaherty’s large walk team includes her brother and sister-in-law, Stephen and Mariell Lyons, who are organizing Thursday’s Cruising for the Cure. The public is invited to board the Captain’s Lady III for a sunset cruise on the Merrimack River featuring a silent auction, cash bar, raffle and snacks.
“She’s just an amazing person,” Clancy said of Flaherty. “We’ve come a long way, and it’s because of her, it really is.”
If you go
Cruising for the Cure
When: Thursday, Oct. 3, 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Aboard the Captain’s Lady III, Newburyport waterfront
How much: $25
More information: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Making Strides Walk
When: Sunday, Oct. 6, rolling start between 8 and 10 a.m.
Where: DCR Hatch Shell, Charles River Esplanade, Boston
Distance: Five miles
How much: No registration fee, but participants are encouraged to fundraise
More information: www.makingstrideswalk.org or http://main.acsevents.org/goto/marilynflaherty
Wear the cause on your sleeve
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Anna Jaques Hospital has created custom pink coffee sleeves that promote the importance of early detection and raise awareness about the opening of the new Gerrish Breast Care Center in October.
Local coffee shops that will have the sleeves include:
Plum Island Coffee Roasters
Joppa Fine Foods
The Black Duck
Caffe di Siena
Port City Sandwich Co.
17 State Street Cafe
Buttermilk Baking Co.
Middle Street Foods
Wicked Big Cafe