In Search Of…Steppin’ Out in Pink 2015

A look at how this amazing event got its start

“I don’t want people getting diagnosed, I want them to not have this disease.” La Crosse resident Patty Brown knows all too well the impact a breast cancer diagnosis can have. “My mom died when she was 44 of breast cancer so I was vigilant about my own self exams. I actually went in for a lump because I had detected it myself. As they did the ultrasound they said ‘that lump is negative but this other lump is positive.'”

And as crazy as it sounds, her diagnosis was actually a weight off her shoulders. “I think I lived in a little bit of fear because of my mother that I finally knew that there was something and we could take care of it and I trusted my team and I was just ready to fight.”

Patty had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, “and then 33 days radiation.” And through the sickness and the weakness, she got an idea she couldn’t let go of. Patty’s longtime friend Robyn Tanke and Director of Development at the Gundersen Medical Foundation remembers the day she stopped by for a visit. “She came in to my office one day after one of her treatments and said ‘I really want to do something to raise awareness and money for breast cancer.'”

“I had heard about these walks with Susan G. Komen. They send me a packet and look through it and I keep seeing ‘send the money away, send the money away’ and I think, ‘how does that help our community?”

But instead of give up, she pressed on. “She came back another time and said ‘let’s do a walk,’ Tanke recalls. “Quite frankly I have had a lot of people come to me over the years and we dopn’t embrace every idea because you can’t do everything. But she had that spark and determination and she just kept at me. So let’s do a walk.”

10:45 “You get the yes and you go ‘oh my God now what are we going to do?! This better be GREAT!'”

They gave themselves 18 months to plan the event and set very modest expectations. “Our goal was 500 walkers the first year and I thought we could raise some money – like $5,000.”

But as the event approached the registration numbers kept climbing and climbing. “This is crazy. This can’t be happening. We just ordered 3000 shirts.”

Tanke had to recruit her entire department to help the weekend before the event. “We worked on labor day. We had to order t-shirts, we did not anticipate that kind of a turn out. And it was amazing the first year and the rest is history.”

On a September day back in 2006, three thousand people showed up. “We have this sea of pink, all these women. It was amazing. And then we started seeing the dollars. And we were shocked. We were well over $5000.”

A remarkable $200,000 was raised that first year alone. “It’s been a huge success story,” says Tanke. “And the best news of all is we have been able to do some pretty amazing things in the area of breast cancer research that have put us on the map in the research world.”

“I guess the thing I think about,” says Brown, “is that everyone has crazy ideas and sometimes it actually works and actually makes our community a better place. So for that I am thrilled. My part in it, I always feel so small I am just the seed because look at how it grew.”

The power of one person can be an inspiring thing. One woman came up with one outstanding idea. One Gundersen employee believed in her and one community embraced it. And ten years later look how far it has come. “I can’t tell you how much pride that I take and this organization takes in seeing where it has come,” says Tanke. “I know people who have had breast cancer and I know the work we do here and it makes me so proud that we did take that idea and run with it. But this has been an amazing adventure and I’m very proud to have been a part of it and excited for what is to come.”

Brown wants everyone to know that the walk is a special day she hopes everyone will take part in. “I would really encourage everyone to come down and just experience it and maybe do a little investment in you community for a few hours and just have a great day.”

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