Kristen Winkworth attended her first BRIGHT Run last year. The Caledonia teacher was too ill to participate, so five of her colleagues at River Heights Public School walked on her behalf as part of a team of 13 that also included family and friends.
But the day – which marked BRIGHT Run’s 10th anniversary – had such an impact on Kristen that she sent us a heartfelt email:
“This is likely a very common statement that you hear, but I love that the money stays in Hamilton for breast cancer research. It warms my heart that so many of the cancer centre staff put in teams as well,” Kristen wrote. “I’m so glad that I got a team together to raise some money, yet it’s so small compared to what the people at the cancer centre have done for me.
“Every person I interacted with, including my surgeon, my two oncologists, nurses, radiation therapists, receptionists, volunteers, genetic counsellors, social workers, etc., all treated me with such kindness, respect and compassion throughout my treatment,” she continued. “You are all truly amazing people!!”
And this year, Kristen is one of three BRIGHT Run Community Connectors. These are new volunteer roles, created by Lise Diebel, who chairs our Advertising, Marketing and Communications Committee. Our Community Connectors will be out and about in different geographic areas, providing BRIGHT information and engagement opportunities to businesses and other community-based organizations.
Kristen’s territory is Haldimand County, where she was born, raised and continues to live. She also plans to branch out toward Brantford and Simcoe.
“I’m going to approach businesses related to breast cancer, taking BRIGHT Run cards and pamphlets to spread information,” she said. “I’m hoping they will be interested in having speakers come in to talk about the BRIGHT Run.”
Kristen was 47 when she was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma last year. Her mother was 47 when she died of breast cancer about 20 years ago.
Kristen underwent breast-conserving surgery and 20 radiation treatments plus four boosts. The married mother of two adult children also underwent a full hysterectomy to ensure her cancer therapy was as effective as possible.
Kristen heard about the BRIGHT Run through a poster at the Juravinski Cancer Centre. Impressed by the fact that all the money raised goes directly to local breast cancer research, she started her team, Warriors of Hope, last August shortly before her second surgery.
School Principal Kathy Ricker was instrumental in helping Kristen form the team.
“I am a believer that everyone needs help at some point in time,” said Kathy. “We are expected to deal with so many things, every day, on our own.
“Breast cancer is certainly not something that anyone should have to deal with on their own,” she continued. “Everyone needs a support network. Kristen needed her team to help her be well again. BRIGHT Run was a wonderful forum for all of those support networks, together, to demonstrate optimism, strength, and perseverance.”
Kristen, who teaches Grade 3, was touched by the support of her River Heights colleagues, five of whom joined the team and started fundraising.
“I started with the goal of raising $500,” she said. “We raised a total of $2,630. The support was wonderful.”
Now back at work, Kristen is still working on her biggest challenge – finding her “new normal.” But she views her cancer as a gift in many ways.
“I have experienced so much human kindness,” she said. “And the experience has taught me to live in the present moment and be grateful for what I have.
“There is so much focus on the negative things in the world, but there are good things out there too,” she continued. “I have had so much help from so many people. I want to give back by helping out with the BRIGHT run in my own quiet way.”
This profile was first published in the BRIGHT eNewsletter in June 2018.