Westerly couple committed to raising money for breast cancer research
By KATHLEEN EDGECOMB
After Michele Gardner was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she wanted to get through her treatment protocol, put the whole ordeal behind her and move on with her life.
“I never wanted to speak about it again. And here I am,” laughed the Westerly resident during a recent interview. She is going on her fifth year of volunteering and raising money for the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation.
Gardner, who teaches exercise classes at the Y in Westerly, met Sandy Maniscalco, the co-founder of the Brodeur Foundation, and her husband Phil, who suggested she get involved with the foundation. The first year, she and her husband, Stephen Gardner, volunteered to get to know what the group was all about.
They attended the closing ceremonies after the annual Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut marathon fundraiser and were hooked.
“At the very end, when they give out flowers and hugs. It got me there. … I started to realize, everyone was there for their own reasons,” she said. She saw survivors overcoming personal goals, those going through therapy willing themselves across the finish line, those who believe in the cause of raising money that goes directly to breast cancer research, and the love and support of family and friends all around.
“I realized it is more than just about raising money,” she said. “It’s inspiring.”
This year, Gardner is walking the quarter marathon for the third time. Her husband Stephen Gardner is walking the marathon. But because he is not available on Oct. 5, when the event takes place, he is doing a “virtual” marathon. Walking the 26.2 miles during a training walk in September.
Steve Garder, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident when he was 21, said walking the marathon is a little harder for him, he stops often to wipe the sweat off his prothstesis, “but it’s not Herculean,” he insists.
He’s more impressed with the way his wife and others diagnosed with breast cancer battle the disease.
“She’s fantastic,” he said of his wife of 29 years. ‘She came back amazingly.”
Michele said she was jolted into action when her young friend and coworker, Aimee Reed, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. After a ferocious fight against the disease, which included some experimental treatments, Reed died in August 2018. She was 34.
Steve and Michele were among a group of family and friends who formed a supportive network and took Aimee to doctors’ appointments and treatments and helped her train for iron man competitions. During one of the appointments, Michele said she heard the doctor saying the disease had progressed and there was nothing more they could do.
“I got so angry and frustrated,” she said. “and I’m still processing it.”
Survivors often encourage those newly diagnosed, telling them they will come out the other side and everything is going to be fine. And in many cases, that’s what happens. But not always.
“When Aimee’s diagnosis was getting worse and worse, I thought, this is beyond where I can help,” Michele said. “I want everyone to have a happy ending.”
But with breast cancer, despite the optimistic pink ribbons and the words of encouragement, not all outcomes are good. And that is what Michele is focusing on.
“When Aimee died, I just got so angry. And It isn’t just me getting that angry,” she said. “We all said, wow, we’ve got to do something.”
“It’s been a big deal for us,” Steve said. “We spent a lot of time with Aimee. Losing Aimee was tough on us all.”
But the emotions from Aimee’s death are still raw.
The couple is walking on the “TONORMA in Memory of Aimee Reed” team in memory of Aimee.
Norma Logan founded the Brodeur Foundation in 2006 with Maniscaclo. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and died in 2006 just as the foundation was getting started.
The Gardners believe that research is the answer. That’s why they support the Brodeur Foundation.
The Gardners said what they like about the Brodeur Foundation is that it commits 100 percent of its fundraising dollars to research, and gives out at least three $100,000 grants every year to doctors and researchers working in the field of breast cancer.
They attend the foundation’s annual meeting where grant recipients are often guest speakers.
“It’s so cool and interesting to hear them speak, and I think things have changed. Strides are being made,” Michele said. But she added, there are still many, many people getting diagnosed with breast cancer and the need for research continues.