Friends support friend’s cancer battle

NANAIMO – Kelli Jennison participates in Run for Cure in honour of long-time friend, Dawn Sparks.

When Kelli Jennison laces up for the annual CIBC Run for the Cure, it will be to honour a long-time friend’s battle to beat breast cancer.

Jennison and Dawn Sparks have been close friends for nearly four decades. They shared the excitement of childhood birthday parties and Christmas mornings; the experience of getting married and the heartbreak of divorce. When Sparks learned she had breast cancer last spring, Jennison was one of the first people she called to break the news.

“The day after she saw her doctor, she called me,” Jennison said, her voice hitching. “It was devastating. It is still hard to talk about. I was concerned … about the unknown.”

Sparks, a mother of three, was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts after she found a lump in a self-exam last spring. She had a double mastectomy and underwent chemotherapy over the summer. Next week, Sparks starts 28 days of radiation treatment.

Jennison and a group of mutual high school friends have been rallying together to help Sparks with the battle, offering rides, cleaning her house and filling her freezer with food. On Sunday, they will take their support one step further by participating in CIBC’s Run for the Cure.

More than 60 co-workers, friends and family have been brought together under the banner, Dawn’s Divas. It’s the largest group of its kind registered for the annual event.

“[This is] to honour her and show her how much support she has with friends and family. That she is not alone,” Jennison said. “[But] it is also to support other women and bring awareness … to make sure they are doing their self-exams and getting a mammogram.”

For Jennison, it’s also a testimony to the strength of friendship.

“She was there on my wedding day as my maid of honour and was there for me when it ended – one of the hardest times in my life. [She] never judged,” Jennison said. “Now I want to be there for her.”

The 22nd annual CIBC Run for the Cure launches at Beban Park Oct. 6 to raise money for breast cancer awareness and treatment. According to the Breast Cancer Foundation, cancer continues to be the single-highest cause of death among Canadian women – affecting one in nine over their lifetime.

Nanaimo run director Shelley McKenna said the local event is touching and fun – not only raising money to help find a cure, but celebrating survival and friendship.

Last year more than 1,000 people took part in the run, raising $180,379.

Registration for the event starts at 8:30 a.m. at Beban Park while the run/walk kicks off at 10 a.m. There will be speeches, a clown for children and a bagpipe-led survivors’ parade.

Organizers continue to look for volunteers, who can register online at www.runforthecure.com.