Ginger Sparks found a lump in her breast during a routine mammogram in 2002.
Fortunately, the lump was small and localized. She knew the odds were on her side.
"I was oddly calm," she said.
Doctors removed the tumor. Sparks underwent six months of radiation, but no chemotherapy.
Now, four years later, and if Sparks' next test comes back negative, she's cancer-free.
"Five years is a kind of benchmark with this type of cancer," she said.
In support of women just like her, the 56-year-old former teacher joins thousands of other cancer survivors during the Susan G. Komen Foundation Breast Cancer Three-Day walk.
"I have two good friends who are affected by this disease and one of those people lived for five years like she was dying," Sparks said. "There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope out there. It is very important to keep that mindset."
In 2003 -- the most recent numbers available -- breast cancer was the sixth leading cause of death for women, reported the Centers for Disease Control. That same year, breast cancer claimed more than 41,000 lives. The disease affects men, too.
According to research from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the leading agency of breast cancer activism, an estimated 200,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year, or one diagnosis every three minutes.
"I don't know anyone who hasn't been affected by it," Sparks said. "(Cancer) seems to be universal."
The three-day walk covers 60 miles. Each entrant will walk approximately 20 miles. Sparks belongs to a team called the White Mountain Walkers. A dearth of local participants compelled her to seek camaraderie outside of town limits.
Beginning Nov. 3, walkers from around the Southwest will descend on Gilbert and set up camp. They'll put up tents and lay out sleeping bags.
During the walk, participants receive 24-hour support, including meals, safety, medical resources and showers.
"We're going to be clean, but not pretty," Sparks said.
With the pink rubber bracelet around her wrist, Sparks carries the message of breast cancer awareness.
Training for stamina takes time and patience.
Sparks started her regimen back in January. It began with weights and cardiovascular conditioning. As her routine intensified over the months, Sparks added increasingly longer walks interspersed with shorter jaunts.
So far, she's walked up to 48 miles in one week.
At a pace of 3 miles per minute, 20 miles, including breaks, can take up to eight hours on the road.
And you don't just lace up just any sneaker. Sparks said the sport of walking is an expensive one. Although she's spent up to $200 on shoes, her favorite are the $90 white New Balance accented with pink. Special sweat-wicking socks can cost up to $10 a pair. Walking shoes are only good for 500 miles, after that it's time to replace.
She also has to account for the break-in period.
"They say break in everything," she added.
She'll bring two pairs of walking shoes -- with 50 miles of wear -- and six pairs of double-layer socks to the walk.
In spite of her illness, Sparks considers herself lucky. She beat breast cancer and has the opportunity to help others recover.
Sparks still needs to raise $925 to meet her contribution goal. She walks for her grandmother and two friends. To donate, visit www.the3day.org/arizona06/gingers.
"I am so grateful that I'm healthy enough to do this," she said.
-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail email@example.com.