MERRIMAC — A local resident has been battling cancer by putting one foot in front of the other for almost three decades and she is looking forward to doing it all over again during the 29th annual North Shore Cancer WALK on June 23.

The walk began as an internal fundraiser for North Shore Medical Center’s Salem campus but has grown to become a popular public event that raises money for cancer-related services such as clinical trials, wellness care and other oncology services.

Francie Croft works as a respiratory care department manager on the Salem campus and has been involved in every one of the hospital’s North Shore Cancer WALKs.

“This started off as something that was hospital based,” Croft said. “Now, it is a major community force. It is astounding how many people show up to this walk every year. They are walking for different loved ones or family members that have been going through treatment or died from cancer.”

Croft has most recently been walking with the respiratory care department’s Lung Rangers team, which she said has a 100% participation rate.

Although the event began as an in-house fundraiser, Croft said it has evolved to include the larger North Shore community as a whole.

Last year’s walk raised over $800,000 for North Shore Medical Center’s Salem and Danvers facilities and hundreds of people from the North Shore area, including residents of Salisbury, Salem, Methuen, Haverhill and Danvers, will be walking in this year’s event.

“This gives back to the entire North Shore community,” Croft said. “The funds that are collected from this walk stay within the community itself. A lot of times, when you donate to large fundraisers, you don’t know where that money is going. Here, we know that money is going back to our neighbors and friends.”

The money raised could even be going toward helping “someone you know,” according to Croft.

“Unfortunately, almost everybody knows someone that is either undergoing treatment or has undergone treatment,” Croft said. “A couple of years ago, the department lost one of our own to cancer. My mother died from cancer, it is just endless. Everybody, in one way or another, is affected by cancer. This is a very special walk.”

The North Shore Cancer WALK will kick off at Salem Willows Park, 167 Fort Ave., on June 23 at 8:30 a.m. Registration is free and begins at 7:30 a.m. The 10K course will work its way past Salem State University and back to the park again.

“You can do half the walk if you want, whatever you can do,” Croft said. “We always have shuttles that pick people up. It is astounding the number of people who come out. People bring their dogs, little kids in carriages, it is quite nice.”

Croft added that participants often make their own T-shirts to commemorate a loved one or loved ones who they have lost to cancer

“It always evolves,” Croft said. “I have seen team names that have been there for many, many years.”

Croft’s team also holds biannual bake sales to benefit the event and will be offering plenty of goodies for sale in the Salem campus’ Davenport 2 lobby on Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.

North Shore Cancer WALK website: www.northshorecancerwalk.com.

 Staff writer Jim Sullivan can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.