Columbus Cottonmouths owner Wanda Amos wanted to model a breast cancer fundraising walk after those done nationally by Susan G. Komen and Avon, but with one major difference.
"I wanted the money to stay in Columbus," Amos said.
So Amos started The In It to End It 10K walk on Sept. 28, a historic fundraising collaboration of Columbus Regional Health's John B. Amos Cancer Center, St. Francis Hospital and the Cottonmouths.
At the beginning, she had modest goals.
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"For the first year, not really knowing what we were doing, I wanted to keep it small," Amos said. "We were looking at 100 walkers. Each walker had to raise a minimum of $500, so our goal was $50,000."
There were 10 teams of 10 walkers, five each from John B. Amos and St. Francis. But there have been a few minor glitches, including problems with the website. Checks are still coming in, and Amos is delighted with the results.
"The latest total is $96,000," Amos said. "Needless to say, we're thrilled with that amount. We're doing a special jersey on the Cottonmouths' opening night (Oct. 26) and a portion of the proceeds will be added to that total. So, we're hoping to add $3,000-$5,000 more."
Amos' ties to breast cancer date back many years to a cousin's diagnosis and a number of friends who have faced the disease. For her, she said an abnormal mammogram several years ago and subsequent biopsy turned out well, but it was a wake-up call.
"I was so thankful we had the equipment available at the Elena Diaz-Verson Center for Breast Health at St. Francis," Amos said. "But that experience got me thinking."
Amos has deep roots in the community. Prominent philanthropists, the late John B. Amos is her father-in-law and Elena Diaz-Verson is her mother-in-law.
"Mr. John believed that our family was very fortunate in that we can afford to go anywhere for medical care," Amos said. "We want the people of Columbus, Georgia, to have the best treatment. God has blessed me and I'm trying to give back. I have a passion for my hometown, and charity begins at home. This effort was a way to help our community and honor both of them."
The John B. Amos Cancer Center and the Elena Diaz-Verson Center for Breast Health share patients and collaborate by providing different phases of a patient's care. But this is the first joint fundraising effort by the two entities.
Lynn P. Thompson, senior administrative director of the St. Francis Medical Group and Outpatient Services, has both a personal and professional stake in cancer treatment.
Taking a keen interest in women's health care since 2000, Thompson more recently had cancer strike her family.
Thompson's daughter, Jenny Nelson, was stricken four years ago at the age of 42.
Nelson needed only surgery and no additional adjuvant therapy, such as chemotherapy or radiation, but the experience deepened Thompson's passion and commitment.
"It was a huge shock," Thompson said. "My commitment went up several notches. It also gave me a clearer understanding of what people went through and how difficult the system can be to work through."
Thompson explained the process and the role played by St. Francis and the Amos Center.
"Our goal is early detection," Thompson said. "We provide diagnosis and treatment. If the patient needs adjuvant therapy, the John B. Amos Cancer Center provides that."
Thompson, who participated in the walk with her daughter, Melissa Derby, lauded the inaugural joint fundraising campaign.
"It was very important to the steering committee that the two share this vision and work hand in hand to facilitate it. When this happened, everyone was thrilled. Everyone in our community benefits from these efforts: hospitals, physicians and, mainly patients," Thompson said.
Columbus Regional Health Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Bonnie Franco noted the longstanding partnership between the two organizations.
"It was great to collaborate with St. Francis," Franco said. "We have a long history of working together to help women, keeping the big picture in mind. No woman should ever have to suffer. We work together to take care of those women who have breast cancer."
The John B. Amos Cancer Center is a regional center, serving Columbus and 22 surrounding counties. The center treated 253 cases in 2012 and during the last fiscal year conducted 58,206 radiation therapy visits and 84,084 infusion visits.
All oncology services are provided under one roof and the center is accredited by the American College of Surgeons and designated as a Community Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center. It is the only accredited treatment center in the area.
Amos promises The In it To End It walk will become an annual event.
"We're already looking forward to next year," Thompson said.