Mountains and Molehills team members Heidi Van Roekel, left, and Nancy Partridge are ready for their 60 miles of walking at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk Nov. 4-6 in Dallas, Texas to raise funds for breast cancer research and treatment. Courtesy photo
Nancy Partridge and Barry Brobst at a 3-Day in San Diego in 2021. Courtesy photo
Accepting a proclamation from Los Alamos County Council declaring October Breast Cancer Month are, from left, Heidi Van Roekel, Barry Brobst, Councilor Denise Derkac presenting, and Nancy Partridge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Editor’s note: The Los Alamos Reporter is challenging her friends and readers to step up and donate to the Mountains and Molehills Team that is fundraising for breast cancer research and treatment and has kicked in her donation in memory of Karen Mehlin. This incredibly brave and dedicated team of six has met their goal of $15,000. Let’s take them higher! Donate now at https://www.the3day.org/ Search for the Mountains and Molehills team.
They call themselves Mountains and Molehills and they are walking to raise funds for breast cancer research and treatment. Walking may sound like an easy activity but what this team does is far from easy. This year from Nov. 4-6, the team is raising funds for Susan G Komen and will be walking in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-mile walk in Dallas, Texas.
Although she never calls herself their leader, Nancy Partridge, the team captain, has been a community champion for supporting breast cancer research and treatment for years now. A 1981 Los Alamos High School graduate, this is Partridge’s 22nd walk for breast cancer. She has been leading a Mountains and Molehills team in some form since 2009.
Joining her is Martha Lauer Cowley, another LAHS 1981 graduate, currently living in Colorado, who walked in the Susan G. Komen 3-day event in Seattle in 2019. A third graduate of the same class, Lee Ann Fults, who lives in Maryland, is a first time walker with the team this year. Also on the team is Andrea Casillas, a phD cancer researcher and grants manager for Susan G Komen and first time walker who lives in Tucson, Ariz. Two other first time walkers on the team are Barry Brobst and Heidi Van Roekel, both of White Rock.
The Mountains and Molehills team has been training for six months for the 60-mile walk.
“We do it for ourselves, our sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, and friends – because we can’t sit idly by watching while breast cancer still exists in the world. The 60-mile walk is hard, but not as hard as breast cancer,” Partridge said.
They walk evenings and weekend, starting out with a total of 12 miles a week and are now up to 44 miles a week or a total of 645 miles. During the three-day event they will walk 20 miles a day for three consecutive days.
Partridge explained that the team name, Mountains and Molehills, has many meanings. Those meanings are reminders of the reasons why the team walks. The name refers to the various “chest” sizes of the team members as well as the terrain that is encountered on breast cancer walks
“It refers to the fact that breast cancer patients make Molehills out of testing and treatments that the rest of us would consider Mountains, and that the walkers make Mountains out of Molehills such as blisters and sore muscles,” Partridge said. “It refers to the fact that we hope one day our fundraising efforts for research and treatment will make Molehills out of the Mountain that cancer is today.”
Heidi Van Roekel said doing something like a 60 mile walk was never even on her radar until Partridge, her neighbor, approached her while she was out walking one day.
“She asked if I wanted to join her team and told me a little about the walk. I went back and forth on it for a couple of months because, let’s be honest, 60 miles is a lot of walking! Eventually I decided to accept the challenge,” Van Roekel said. “I have several friends who are survivors but my biggest reason for walking is that I want my 11 year old daughter and her friends to grow up in a world where breast cancer is easier to treat and survive.”
Barry Brobst said his involvement began when he went to San Diego last year to support a friend doing a 3-Day walk.
“I had been told what to expect but I had no idea it was going to be anything like what I experienced. It’s like someone telling you what the Grand Canyon looks like but once you see it in person it’s like –wow! You are totally blown away,” he said.
Brobst said the explanation doesn’t do the feeling justice.
“You see all the people – thousands – who are walking and/or supporting the walkers. There are people there who have gone through chemo, people who are going through it now and survivors, pictures of loved ones who succumbed to the disease. It’s a very moving experience. It does something to you,” he said. “So, I’m walking this year in the hopes that I can help, if even in a small way, to eradicate this terrible disease. And, I’m already registered to walk again in 2023.”
Andrea Casillas has her doctorate in cancer biology and was drawn to work at the Susan G Komen Foundation after realizing the immense need for more efforts in women’s cancers.
“At Komen I am a research grants manager and assist in efforts to solicit and fund new breast cancer grants. It is a great opportunity and way to couple my personal interests in women’s health with my expertise in cancer,” she said. “I met Nancy through a wonderful Komen advocacy and government event and she encouraged me to join her team after learning I had never attended one. I am so happy I took up her offer!”
Casillas said fundraising for the cause has made her work even more fulfilling.
“I am so grateful to everyone who attends these walk and keeps the Komen mission going. Komen really is powered by the people, many of whom are survivors, and I am so proud of all of them,” she said.
Lee Ann Fults was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and has now been cancer free for three years.
“I wanted to celebrate after all these years of fighting. What better way to celebrate than by helping others achieve that same goal. My friend died in 2015 after battling breast cancer for 10 years and I see so many friends, and friends of friends still fighting this disease. I realize three years is a great accomplishment but it is a never ending battle. I’m hoping for four years, five years, but we need a ‘cure’ so we can stop worrying about every doctor appointment, every year and stop recurrence. That’s why I’m walking and why I’m raising money – to end breast cancer forever,” Fults said.
Breast cancer has punctuated various points of Martha (Lauer) Cowley’s life, striking friends, cousin and coworkers.
“I’ve lost many friends to this disease. I’ve met many more survivors. In spring of 2022, it was suddenly an exclamation point in my own life as I went through several ‘glamour’ shots with repeated mammograms, ultrasounds, tests, leading to biopsies and removals of thankfully benign masses,” Cowley said. “Life was on pause for five months. With the recent resumption of day to day things, it’s with the knowledge that the journey is ongoing, because genetic lotteries, because age, because…so many other things but mostly because we haven’t found the cure. Successful treatments, earlier detection, but we have not yet developed the cure. And so that is what it comes down to.”
Cowley said her initial participation in Susan G Komen was to help others, to raise funds and awareness of this disease.
“This year, my participation is first person awareness – because I am now one of the statistically higher risk people. I will need six-month follow ups. While I had access to great medical care, insurance, information, and good doctors, so many women don’t. And their chances of early detection and proper, affordable treatment is a further risk to surviving a breast cancer diagnosis. Life is precious. Every woman deserves a chance to survive this awful disease until we find a cure that makes survival a given, rather than a statistic,” she said.
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Martha Cowley in a training walk. Courtesy photo
Nancy Partridge, left, and Martha Cowley at a 3-Day walk in 2019. Courtesy photo
The 2022 Mountains and Molehills team, pictured during a team Zoom meeting, are clockwise from top left, Nancy Partridge Martha Cowley, Andrea Casillas, Lee Ann Fults, Heidi Van Roekel and off camera Barry Brobst. Courtesy photo