Pam’s Pink Posse Power ‘Keeps You Coming Back’
Survivor Series: Pamela Morris Watt and her incredible “pink posse”
by ELLYN SANTIAGO
After learning in 2008 that her friend Pam Watt had been diagnosed with two types of breast cancer, Nancy Fraser Shepard had an idea about how to offer support. And the TBBCF Walk Team Pam’s Pink Posse was conceived. Born to support Pam in her breast cancer treatment journey, likely no one at the time might have imagined that 15 years later the posse would be a powerful entity in itself. It survives. It thrives. Just like Pam.
TBBCF’s Executive Committee Vice President, Pam is a 15-year breast cancer survivor. A TBBCF volunteer since 2010, she was named a Foundation board director in 2015, and in 2017 she was awarded the TBBCF 27th Mile Club Award.
Nancy knew Pam because, as an infusion nurse who has treated many cancer patients, she gave Pam her bi-weekly shots. For the 2008 TBBCF Walk for a Cure, the team consisted of Nancy, Pam’s sister Donna Ruggieri and her niece Jaime Labbe, as well as supporters and friends Kim Hoffa, Cindy Shea, Judy Teal, Dennaye Garbati and Patti Fraser.
Pam was in the throes of her chemotherapy treatment and could not walk
For Judy Teal, the first Pam’s Pink Posse team walk in 2008 was a “celebration of life.”
“We started it for Pam. She’s the driving force behind all of it because she’s done so much for so many. And we walk for her, but we also walk for those who are not here anymore,” Judy said. “Our hearts were in it.”
But the walk challenged Judy in an unexpected way, though she triumphed.
“I have a fear of heights. I walked over the bridge, white-knuckled,” she remembered. “When I made it over, the first thing I did was call my mom.”
That finish line feeling
At the end of the marathon in ‘08, Pam met the team at the finish line.
For the team members who TBBCF spoke to for this story, all recalled that finish line-crossing moment, with Pam waiting for them as intensely moving.
Kim Hoffa won’t forget it.
“That first walk …seeing Pam at the finish line was very emotional,” Kim said, “For me, for all of us.”
Nancy described it as the “most touching moment.”
Speaking of the finish line, Pam herself said that nothing compares to that first time.
“That’s the one that sits with you. There is nothing like that feeling,” after completing the 26.2-mile marathon. “It’s just amazing.”
Pam’s Pink Posse member Sharon Beaney captured the feeling this way: “Crossing the finish line that first time was like first, ‘Holy crap, we did this.’ Later it really sinks in how big that was. How important that was. The first time keeps you coming back.”
Eighteen miles in a monsoon
In 2009, Pam walked with her Pink Posse. Unforgettable for that reason, but also for the fact that she walked some 18 miles of the 26.2 in a torrential downpour, with sneakers squeaking out every step of the way.
“You just kept your head down and kept on going,” Pam recalled. “We just kept on going until, closing in on 19 miles walked, the rain began to let up, and the clouds parted just enough for the sun to peek through. By the time they made it to the finish line, as Pam put it, “You’re overwhelmed and flooded with emotion.”
For Nancy, that year was also unforgettable. She had not trained and wasn’t in the best of shape, she said, but that did not stop her from walking.
“I remember crossing the Old Saybrook bridge with the wind and the rain …it felt like a hurricane. But as we got closer to the (end), the sun began to come out and shine on us.”
A few weeks later, she’d lose all her toenails (blame those water-soaked sneakers) after the now-legendary trek.
Posse member Jane: ‘Part of a new young generation fighting breast cancer’
Walking in TBBCF’s signature fundraiser with Pam’s Pink Posse has made a lasting impact on the team members, but perhaps most especially its youngest member. Jane Guay is 16. She began walking with the Posse in the 2019 walk at age 12.
“There’s not a big chunk of young kids involved, so I want to be part of this new young generation fighting breast cancer,” Jane said.
Pam and Jane’s dad, Greg Guay, “are like siblings.” Jane has been part of fundraisers that raise cancer research money and awareness, like the Relay for Life. She wanted to be part of the TBBCF Walk too, as well as help raise money with other events, like her and her dad singing outside Sea Swirl. A celebrated singer, Jane sang during the survivor portion of the walk ceremony for two years. ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten had everyone in tears. Make sure to bring plenty of tissues to this year’s walk, as Jane will be singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’
The Posse has raised $200K since ‘09, …and helped others along the way
Most of the money raised for the TBBCF by Pam’s Pink Posse team has come from pledges for the Foundation’s signature walk. But not all. The Posse holds myriad of fundraisers. Nancy shared one in particular, an ‘80s high school prom-themed event, big hair and all.
“A friend, (nurse Karen Nowak Sage), never went to her high school prom, so that inspired me,” Nancy said. “It was a lot of fun, very 80s! And, we raised money!”
Fundraising is vital. And almost $200,000 is a lot of money. But reaching people has been an important Posse role, too, Judy said.
“We walk every year and mostly see the same people,” she said. People that line streets, and roads and fill neighborhoods, cheering on walkers as they pass.
“If you don’t see someone, then you wonder what’s happened. For many years, a man and his wife passed out York peppermint patties to walkers as we passed by. One year, I saw him. Not his wife. I asked him where she was. He said, ‘She’s a survivor. She’s walking this year.’ That touched my heart. That’s why we do this.”