Fundraiser Friday: Paint the Porch Pink
By BCRF | May 22, 2015
By BCRF | May 22, 2015
After watching her best friend of more than 30 years Roxanne die of metastatic breast cancer, Carol McCarthy struggled with a way to honor her memory. She grappled with grief and couldn’t bear to involve herself in anything that could remind her of the pain she witnessed firsthand.
That was until she joined the Porch Club of Riverton, New Jersey. The 125-year-old organization champions women’s causes and gave Carol the idea to host a unique event to benefit breast cancer research. Carol didn’t want it to be just “a walk.” She wanted the day to be something Roxanne would have loved.
This was how Paint the Porch Pink was born. The event, now in it’s third year, has raised $34,000 for BCRF. Walkers participate in a 5 km stroll around the town that straddles the Delaware River where they visit historic homes with decorated pink porches, sip pink lemonade and listen to live music. This year the event takes place on June 7.
“Every day I asked Rox to send me someone like her because I missed her so badly. But, it never happened,” Carol told BCRF. “I realized, that through my membership in the Porch Club and my involvement in Paint the Porch Pink, instead of sending me one friend, Roxanne sent me a whole bunch of new friends.”
While no one can replace the closeness Carol had with Roxanne, she credits fundraising for breast cancer research as her way of moving forward. “In honoring my best friend in this way, I found a path to healing, personal growth and many friendships,” she added.
We had a chance to speak with Carol about her upcoming fundraiser, its impact on her life and why breast cancer research is important to her.
We understand your late friend Roxanne inspired you to start fundraising for breast cancer research. Could you describe what being her friend was like during that difficult time in her life?
The first thing to know is that Rox and I had known each other since we were young children so we were basically like sisters to each other. We saw each other every day while growing up. Our friendship went beyond favorite foods or colors or music. We knew each other’s histories. We could tell each other’s stories. We shared many ‘firsts,’ had adventures, trusted one another with secrets and dreams, and spent hours imagining our futures – what kind of careers we’d have, what our husbands would be like, where we’d live, how many kids we’d have. We both played guitar and wrote and sang songs together too. Later when we were not geographically as close, we still spoke several days a week if not more.
Rox was a sunny optimist. She was a very happy person by nature. I was the ‘realist’. I could worry myself into a tizzy for no good reason. She would ground me. She was a great stabilizer and I could count on her to keep me from obsessing about a problem or becoming too negative. She was a very positive force to anyone she’d meet. She had a true glow about her. She was a light in my life. Truthfully, I have no idea what she got out of our friendship except a good laugh at some of my predicaments.
I will never forget the day she called to tell me about her diagnosis. Her voice was uncharacteristically filled with anxiety. She re-counted the visit with the doctor, the results, the plans for a mastectomy, talk of upcoming chemo – it was surreal. Then she said, “Carol, I do not want to die.” I could not even believe what I was hearing! Rox used the “D” word! She was afraid. She was so young, only 35, there was no way she could DIE! I told her she’d be fine. She would not die. When I got off the phone, I started shaking. Then I began reading everything I could about breast cancer. I knew people that had it and survived. I searched for anything helpful, looking for statistics to make us both feel better, read up on diet and cancer – healthy foods and teas and supplements to help with her immune system, new treatments, top docs – anything I could do to support her.
The diagnosis taught me that anyone, ANYONE could get breast cancer. And, that it was now my turn to be the stable, grounding presence for her.
After surgery, and then during treatment, we would talk on the phone each day. With a full time job and my own young daughter to care for, I could not be there physically more than a day or so a week since Rox lived an hour away. I wanted to be strong for her. There were times the chemo made her so sick she said she wanted to throw in the towel. I would stay on the phone with her, talk her through it. When she lost her hair, I told her I’d shave my head to be like her, but she told me no. Instead, we had a hat party. We planned a party for dozens of her friends. Everyone brought hats. There were lots of games – like pin the hat on the life-sized Chippendale model poster.
The entire night was a great time. She had such fun, she forgot about the cancer for a bit. She had her pick of a couple dozen hats. She kept one or two and took the rest to her doctor’s office to be distributed among other chemo patients that had lost their hair.
She finished treatment and eventually got well. After three years, she was declared cancer-free, in remission. We celebrated and thought it was behind us. During that time after Rox’s ordeal, my father, whom I adored, died of pancreatic cancer. Rox was there for me again.
Then about 8 months or so after her 3-year mark, the cancer returned. Liver, lungs, bone and brain. All of us - her husband, Jeff, her family, friends, Rox - felt shocked and betrayed. How the hell could this happen? I knew this recurrence was not good and wanted to take her on one more adventure. I bought plane tickets to Vegas. I’d planned for us to meet up with my California friends and have an ‘all girl’s weekend’ – before she’d have to start a new round of treatments. But her health deteriorated too fast and the trip had to be scrapped.
As Rox became sicker, the main focus was on her daughters. I tried to be there in whatever way she needed. Everyone volunteered to help more with the girls and keep their lives as ‘normal’ as possible. I made costumes and threw a Halloween party for them and their classmates. Friends of the family that lived nearby picked the girls up from school or babysat or took them out to eat. Rox was dying and we all felt so helpless. As she got too sick to walk around, she and I would just lay in her bed and talk. I watched her fight battle after awful battle. Watched her get weaker. Watched while she lost the war.
Instead of being bitter or frightened, her spirit got stronger. She actually grew more serene. She expressed compassion for everyone around her, even the nurses and doctors. You could see her soul was getting ready to leave. She became more beautiful and her glow, brighter. She was literally transforming into an angel before my eyes. And, I am not someone that believes in heavenly beings with wings. Her only real source of anxiety was for her daughters. She tried so hard to beat the disease for them, for her husband and her mother.
One of the last days I saw her alive, we sat and talked about what she wanted done for her daughters – what to give them for their graduations, their weddings, other milestones. I never thought I could be strong enough to have that conversation but I took it on as a last and solemn duty as her best friend – the most important and loving thing I could do for her then. The day she died, was the most painful day of my life. The bright light went out. While I had friends, I knew I would never have that kind of close relationship with anyone ever again.
What inspired you to start fundraising and start your own event?
For the longest time I tried to think of something I could do to honor her. My first thought was a tattoo of a cardinal (the bird was her symbol of hope). But, what good would it do for me to have a tattoo? What would that do for her daughters or my daughter or anyone? I had never even thought to participate in any walks or events because I was afraid it would hurt too badly. I was still in grief. It took more than ten years before I had a chance to do something meaningful.
After I’d moved to Riverton, New Jersey, I became familiar with a women’s organization called the Porch Club. I was approached to join. I was hesitant at first but decided to try something new. I mentioned starting a walking group for fitness to Pat Brunker, the president at the time of my joining. About one month after my induction, Pat asked if I had thought anymore about “a” walk. Apparently, she had thought I meant some kind of fundraising walk. That’s when the thunderbolt struck and in one instant I knew what I could do to honor my friend! HECK, YES! A WALK! I asked Pat if the club, in their 100-plus year history, had ever done anything for breast cancer before. She said, oddly, no. She suggested I come up with a concept and then present it to the board.
I sat at my computer and thought about what the event would look like. I had never been to a walk before and did not know what they entailed. It seemed like it should be more than just walking around.
It should be fun and a positive, feel-good day – something that Rox would have loved. It should be something that people of every physical capability and age could enjoy, including women that may be in treatment.
I thought about the phrase ‘paint the town red.’ Immediately, the idea of marrying pink and porches came to mind and ‘Paint the Porch Pink’ was born. I wrote down every detail of the walk in a couple of hours. Of course, it took a lot of fine-tuning later. The premise would be to involve the entire town, highlight the porches, and to give walkers an incentive to go from porch to porch: TREATS (pink, of course).
I presented it to Pat. She loved it. It went before the board and got the green light. This was really going to happen! Pat Brunker was instrumental in giving wings to this idea. It would not have happened without her. And, the Walk is not possible without the ladies of the Porch Club. I could not have done this on my own. Pat was and has remained my co-chair for each event.
Almost all of the ‘pink porches’ involved are owned by Porch Club members. Paint the Porch Pink Breast Cancer Walk is a testament to the generous, civically-minded women of the club that give their time and hearts to everything they do.
What led you to support BCRF in particular?
The money from our first Walk in 2011 was earmarked and donated to another large, well-known, heavily advertised breast cancer charity. Afterwards, I did some thorough checking and found that the goals of the BCRF – raising money for research – were more aligned with my own goals: to put as much money as possible in the hands of the doctors and scientists that were committed to finding a cure through research. I was especially impressed by the Charity Navigator rating. I contacted Carol Edwards at BCRF. I wanted to know more. I wanted to tell them about our event and let them know that we had decided the proceeds of our second Walk would go to the BCRF. Then for our second event, Myra Biblowit, the president of the BCRF came to the Walk! I could not believe she would come to our small town Walk! Myra has such grace and warmth. It was such an honor to have her here. Now our third Walk is about to kick off and the BCRF is the only charity I would consider giving the money to.
Why is breast cancer research important to you?
While mammogram reminders and pink tents and 3-day walks are important, only a cure will end the disease and the suffering. And, a cure will only be found if the best minds we have are able, through adequate funding, to apply their brilliance and their passion to research. I believe we owe it to ourselves to give the researchers what they need: the financial freedom to expand their knowledge and find new tools to end breast cancer.
Do you have any fundraising advice for BCRF supporters?
Be pro-active and do something! Try fundraising.
Lose yourself in a passion project to raise money for BCRF and you will find your grief lifted and transformed into something useful and rewarding.
I think a lot of people are afraid to take on fundraising. They can't see themselves doing it. That it’s a special kind of person. It’s not. It’s anyone. Anyone can find a way to raise money. I guarantee they will feel really good, meet lots of new people and help with their healing.
Click here for more information on Paint the Porch Pink, how to donate and participate.
When you give to BCRF, you're funding critical hours in the lab. More time for research means longer, healthier lives for the ones we love.