On Danielle Toski’s family tree are three women who have fought — or are fighting — breast cancer.
With thoughts of her great-grandmother, grandmother and great-aunt’s experiences on her mind, Toski is passionate about raising money for breast cancer awareness and research.
“Knowing the chances that my mother and I and my little girls could get breast cancer is scary,” says Toski, whose great-grandmother Willie Richards died of the disease in 2009 after it spread through her body.
“My great-aunt Regina Perrier [of Virginia] was diagnosed a few years ago, and she had surgery and chemo and is in remission now.”
Meanwhile, her grandmother Judi Richards of Florida is facing breast cancer for the second time.
Toski wants to make sure her own daughters — Lila, 2, and newborn Scarlett — will never have to learn their mother has breast cancer.
Through events like the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides for Breast Cancer,” Toski’s mother, Connie Ames, is right by Toski’s side. Toski’s first go-round with Making Strides, a 5K run/walk, was last year, and the experience was inspirational and challenging for her and her mom.
“Last year it was great because ‘Strides’ was held in October, and it was really cool out,” Ames says.
“This year, it was in August, and it was really hot. We were dragging, so it was quite an accomplishment for us.”
Having just given birth, Toski wasn’t sure she could cross the finish line. The event, which took place Aug. 4 at Ted Spella Park in Algonquin, was a four-hour endeavor.
“I just had a baby … but when I got there, I was just so pumped, I was ready to go,” the Cary resident says. “There is a lot of unity. To be among these women who are going through what my family has gone through is amazing.”
Feeling physically exhausted made the mom/daughter pair mindful of what breast cancer fighters endure as they fight for their lives, Ames adds.
“That’s why we couldn’t give up,” she says. “We want more women surviving it.”
Steppin’ It Up
In August, Ames and Toski doubled the money they raised their first year.
“I work with a lot of great people, in a great community,” Ames says of her role at ReMax in Barrington. “People there are very generous.”
With an email blast to her network of real estate agents, Ames says she raised more than $400 in the first couple of days. An additional $100 came in later, and next year, she plans to bump up her collection even more.
For Toski, awareness is as critical as dollars. She’s reaching out as often as possible online.
“Even if people don’t want to donate money, I tell them to read up on mammograms and early detection,” she says. “It’s a very real possibility it can happen to you and your family.”
The reality of her grandmother’s second diagnosis is constantly in her thoughts, Toski says. Opting to forego chemo, she’s focusing on a special diet as an alternative treatment. In her honor, Toski named her Making Strides team “Judi’s Angels.”
While Toski says her inaugural year as a fund raiser was approached with an attitude of, “Well, I’ll just do this and see what happens,” her devotion is stronger now.
“I decided I wanted to walk for [my grandmother],” Toski says. “Next year, I want to try all sorts of ways to gather money. Anything I can think of, I’m really going for it next year.”
Setting The Bar
Beyond her goal to raise awareness and funds so a cure can be found, Ames also is expecting more from herself, physically. With two Making Strides walks behind her, Ames is striving to do a 10K fundraising event next year, encouraging her daughter to join her.
“It will be for breast cancer awareness and research because that’s the charity we’re passionate about,” Ames says.
She also hopes researchers will look at environment factors and their link to younger women being diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It’s happening to younger and younger women, and it’s terrifying,” Ames says.