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Taking strides against a killer

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 28, 2002

The Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk ended at the American Airlines Arena in Miami with whooping and hollering, hugs and high-fives. Two thousand women walked 60 miles in three days, starting in Boca Raton at Florida Atlantic University. The purpose of the walk was to raise money for breast cancer research and to help women who cannot afford care for this disease.

Jeanne Arnould, 56, was one of the walkers. She heard about the walk on her car radio: "I was enrolled, just like that," she said. "I didn't even think twice about it. I knew I was going to do it."

She paid the $75 for registration and was required to raise at least $1,900 in donations. She wrote letters requesting funds and easily brought in $4,300. Avon hires an organization called Pallotta to put on the event, providing tents, food, ice water, toilets, foot powder and more. The walk brought in $2-million, part of which goes for expenses.

Physically fit to start with, Arnould decided that she wanted to do this without her body being an issue. She didn't want to be injured on the walk, so she trained regularly for weeks before. On a Saturday morning, she got up and told herself, "Just do it! Get up, get dressed and walk out the door."

She didn't eat breakfast because she knew that she would then get sidetracked. From her North Shore St. Petersburg neighborhood, she walked 2 miles to McDonald's at Fourth Street N and 38th Avenue, where she bought an Egg McMuffin. Then she continued all the way north on Fourth Street, and across the Gandy Bridge.

And back. She left at 8:30 a.m. and was back at 4:30 p.m.

"I got within 2 miles of the house and got a surge of adrenaline. I could have gone another 5 miles! When I got home, I stretched and did some yoga. When I got up in the morning, I was fine."

The next day, she got in the car and drove the distance to measure it -- 26 miles.

"I like to walk alone," she said. "Your head gets so clear. Stickers, dirt get up the back of my legs, I think, "Are you nuts? Go back.' But then I see a little blue flower and think, "Look what you're going to miss if you don't do this walk!' "

Arnould had another reason to do the walk. A longtime friend, Daisy Miller of Fort Lauderdale, was dying of breast cancer. Daisy's purpose in life was to make the world a better place. She worked with antihunger programs, once riding a bicycle in a Transamerica Bike Marathon organized by End World Hunger. The bike trek was 4,200 miles across America from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco.

Arnould went to visit Daisy before the 3-Day Walk and from her bed, Daisy said, "I'll give you a hundred bucks" for the Avon walk.

Arnould's walk went well. Unlike others, she did not wear shorts. She dressed in loose, long, light-weight clothing, which she doused in ice water from time to time. She wore a wide-brimmed hat. They started every day at 7 a.m. Blisters and aching muscles were common. Sleeping in a tent on rough terrain was difficult. They had to wait in line for showers. People got cranky.

She said she saw at least 75 women who were over 60 years old. The first day they walked 24 miles, 21 miles on the second day and 15 on the third. The heat was intense. About 200 dropped out the first day, 20 more on the second.

Some of the walkers were cancer survivors themselves.

Arnould's group was named Daisy's Darlings, but the name had nothing to do with her friend. Instead, it was the name of the dog of one of the group's members.

Once Arnould thought she couldn't go any farther but then saw a woman wearing a T-shirt that read, "I'd walk to heaven if it would bring her back." That did it. Her spirits and energy lifted, and she was ready to go on.

During the time that Arnould had been training, she took the family dog, Dylan, and walked in the park one evening. It was sundown, and lambent light was wavering. She looked down and there, at her feet, was a four-leaf clover. "I had never found a four-leaf clover before!" she said. She picked it and took it home.

Four hours later, Daisy died.

Arnould plans to do another walk in August, this one for depression and suicide. It is sponsored by the Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is called Out of the Darkness. A 26-mile, one-night walk, it will start in darkness and come into light. This walk will begin in Fairfax, Va., and end the next morning at the United States Capitol Building at sunrise.

For information on this and other walks, see: Phone toll-free 1-800-825-1000.

Niela M. Eliason is the author of Kitchen Tables and Other Midlife Musings. Write to her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or send e-mail to

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