For Kim Deloatch, watching her mother battle Stage 4 breast cancer became a way of life. Deloatch, who was just 12 years old when her mother Gardenia Reed was diagnosed, recalled doing homework in the hospital and turning to her older sister for maternal support.
"Just seeing a person go through that at such a young age, sometimes you don't understand why," said Deloatch, now 30, of Cliffside Park. "You often ask, 'Why me? Why her?'"
After Reed succumbed to cancer in 1994 at age 34, Deloatch made it her mission to continue fighting against the disease, strapping on her sneakers to march in breast cancer walks across the nation. She joined tens of thousands of walkers in Newark Sunday morning for American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, held in Brick City for the 12th consecutive year.
"I never felt sorry for myself. I never wanted a pity party," said Deloatch, whose team Gardenia's Angels has raised $4,140 so far. "I always felt that my mom was a strong woman and I learned strength from her."
Under the theme "more pink for your green," ACS aimed to surpass the $320,000 raised through the Newark march last year - and it did. More than 12,000 walkers were on hand Sunday to raise more than $345,000 toward cancer research and awareness, according to ACS officials.
"We've been here (Newark) for so long and it's a community that really needs American Cancer Society," said Gene Derkack, regional vice president of ACS. "Unfortunately, cancer mortality rates are higher amongst diverse populations. We just feel it's our responsibility to be here fighting breast cancer."
The Newark march was one of seven in New Jersey Sunday; others were held in Woodbridge, Point Pleasant Beach, Ridgefield Park, Jersey City, Ocean City and Parsippany. Altogether, 62,400 walkers marched in New Jersey Sunday, with more than $3.6 million raised, according to Desiree Berenguer Carton, ACS communications and marketing project manager.
Before embarking on the less than three-mile, round-trip march from Military Park to Lincoln Park at 10 a.m., the sea of walkers - most of whom dressed head-to-toe in pink - warmed up with thumping music and motivational speeches.
"Today we are celebrating hope and we are embracing not the possibility, but the promise that we will make it through and find a cure," Newark Mayor Cory Booker told the crowd. He touted the Newark march as the largest and most inspirational in New Jersey.
"It's a testimony to the resiliency and strength of all New Jerseyans," said Booker, whose own family has been impacted by cancer. "It (cancer) is something that touches everybody … I don't think any of us are not affected."
Statistics show about one in eight (12 percent) women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of her life, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
Sunday's walk had a personal resonance for Newark Councilwoman-at-Large Mildred C. Crump, who has participated in more than 15 years of breast cancer walks after losing her best friend to the disease. Crump, who helped organize this year's march, said she's also lost two aunts and one cousin to breast cancer.
"For at least this one day," said Crump, "social concerns, racial issues, economic divisions, they're all forgotten. We're here for one common purpose."