Every Mother's Day for the past 20 years, walkers have gathered at the Erie Canal Towpath. Some as breast cancer survivors, some in memory of those who didn't survive, and all possessed of a single purpose.
The walk is one of the legacies of Mary Marvin, who started the Mother's Day Breast Cancer Canal Walk in 1996, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Marvin started the walk along with the help of several others facing breast cancer. Marvin was deemed cancer-free for two years after going through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, but later was stricken with liver and bone cancer, passing away from the disease in 1998. Her sister and brother-in-law, Rebecca and Jack Florio have kept the walk going in her memory, raising over $400,000 for the American Cancer Society's Wig Room since its inception.
“We've been able to raise both money and awareness. Awareness is a big part of it,” Rebecca Florio, Marvin's sister, said. “It's amazing to see how many survivors come and meet up with other survivors. It's really good for them to speak to other people who have gone through the same thing.” Rebecca and her husband Jack are proud to note that the walk has grown significantly over the years.
“We started out with about a hundred participants,” Rebecca said. “In May 2013, we probably had 700 walkers. Annually the walk raises about $40,000. Mary Marvin worked at the American Cancer Society's Amherst office for several years after she was diagnosed, as the Regional Cancer Control Director. There she founded a room dubbed “The Wig Depot”. Mary created the room with supplies from the home super store, Home Depot. Since Home Depot donated the supplies for the room, she named the room "The Wig Depot". The room, filled with many wigs, turbans and other head coverings, is designed to give women suffering from chemotherapy-related hair loss a friendly, salon-like setting in which to try out the gear. “When you lose your hair from cancer treatments, you can wear a scarf or a hat, but when you get dressed up you want something that adorns your head,” Rebecca said. “A wig does that.”
The Wig Depot was renamed Mary's Wig Room after Marvin died. Along with Marvin's portrait, the word “Hope” is hung on the wall in pink letters. The Mother's Day Breast Cancer Canal Walk is one of the only sponsors of the wig room, which is available to people with all types of cancer in all eight counties of Western New York. The wig room give out at least 200 wigs per year. Normally a natural looking wig can go anywhere from $200 to $500, and it's not covered by insurance, but anyone from Western New York can make an appointment and come in to get fitted for a free wig.
The two-mile walk attracts participants from around Niagara and neighboring counties. Planning for the walk starts in January every year, according to Jack Florio. Micro Graphics, the Florios' owner-operated printing, sign and photo business, generates the pledge forms, posters, signs and T-shirts that help give it a distinct identity. Micro Graphics, located in downtown Lockport, is the home base for the Breast Cancer Walk.
Nearly a generation after her sister's passing, Rebecca Florio says walk participants still approach her to share their memories of her sister, Mary. People will come up to me at the walk and tell me, 'I remember your sister, she helped me with this' or (she) told them something that helped them with what they had to go through,” Rebecca said. “She was an amazing person — always smiling, always happy, even when she was going through chemo and she worked almost all the time.”