Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fully Engaged: October 2014

By Margo Tennant   

Features Hot Topics Prevention

Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected.

Three Breast Friends put one foot in front of the other and set off on an adventure they never expected. Cancer had touched all of us in one way or another, so we chose to support the Weekend to End Breast Cancer benefiting Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. We each had people in our hearts for whom we would walk 60 kilometres over two days to raise money for research and be part of making a difference by raising awareness of cancer.

Our first thought was whether we could each raise the $2,000 registration fee. Working as a team we came up with a plan: we would ask family and friends for support, sell chocolate-covered almonds, and we would host a car wash and use the employee donation match program. So many great ideas but what would be the quickest way to reach our goal?

Our families and friends were on board with our quest and supported the cause. Selling chocolate was a very easy task; who does not love chocolate? We partnered with our local volunteer fire station; it would provide the location and the firefighters if we provided the car-washing woman power. Our local newspaper ran a story – including a photo – about our passion to raise money for a great cause. In a small town that goes far; customers were pulling up just to make a donation without receiving our services of a shiny, clean car. Once the fundraising started, our second thought was, can we really walk 60 kilometres?   

We needed to break in new shoes while scheduling walking times that worked best for three busy women. Using our log book we tracked our walks, going a little further each week, changing the route from pavement to trails, up hills and over side roads. According to guidelines recommended in our registration package, altering our route and the terrain was the best way to prepare for the journey. Our walks became social chat sessions and we did not feel the kilometres we put behind us.


We reached our fundraising goal and our training was complete, although two of the women for whom we were walking passed away prior to the walk. We thought we were ready for this adventure.

We need to be diligent about our health – go for your annual physical, do self-examinations, follow up on any and all concerns. Studies show that firefighters face higher-than-average risks of several types of cancer, including colon cancer and brain cancer. Firefighters are exposed to many potentially cancer-causing chemical released from burning materials. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, it is expected that two in five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes. Males have a 45 per cent lifetime probability (or a one in 2.2 chance) of developing cancer; females have a 41 per cent lifetime probability (or a one in 2.4 chance) of developing cancer. An estimated 191,300 new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in Canada in 2014. More than half of these cases (52 per cent) will be lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer. That is why it is so important for us to conduct self-examinations. Do you?

We arrived in Toronto before the sun was up. Looking around in awe, there was a sea of people smiling, stretching, and gathering in teams. The motivational sendoff speech had us stepping a little higher and a little prouder as we walked through the Princess Margaret gates. As we walked along the streets there were horns honking and people waving and showing support. Our goal was to walk 32 kilometres the first day. Walkers were sharing their emotional stories, wearing photos of loved ones on their shirts. Some were dressed in outfits that certainly injected humour into our day. Everyone had a story. A huge thank you to the many volunteers stationed at the rest stops who supplied encouragement, entertainment, snacks and any medical aid required before sending us on our way.

Sunday morning at 8 a.m., we were packed up and ready to complete the final 28 kilometres and see what the day would bring. Or so we thought. Bagpipers lined the path out of the campground to send us on the second leg of the walk. Some neighbourhoods were just waking up, not wanting to miss the opportunity to witness such an event. People offered coffee, juice or simply thanked us for what we were doing and sent Sunday morning blessings. Our route took us past Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital where we shed tears as doctors, patients and their families showed their support for our efforts.

Determination to complete the walk is what drove one of the Breast Friends. With six kilometres left to the finish line and blisters between her toes, she pulled a pair of Crocs from her knapsack, changed her shoes and we were back walking. We knew this was nothing compared to what some of the struggles the survivors had gone through. 

Our families arrived to watch us cross the finish line and attend the closing ceremony. Walking through the gates and watching the crowd was surreal. There were cheers and tears everywhere – some of the tears being shed were of sheer joy, some were of sheer pain. The participants were sent to a holding room to don their T-shirts to identify survivors, supporters and volunteers. The stadium was filled to capacity with chanting and cheering as we made our entrance. At this point, our emotions were on momentary overload. We were not sure how any of us could still be standing never mind running through a corridor to the floor area reserved for more than 5,000 participants. The biggest roar erupted when the final group walked through the entrance holding hands and making a chain of survivors.

We did it! And what an adventure it was. 

Margo Tennant is a fire and life-safety education officer with Brampton Fire and Emergency Services in Ontario. Contact her at

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