BEND, Ore. - Heaven Can Wait, a 5K run and walk held annually to raise money for Sara's Project, reached its $1 million cumulative fundraising goal this year.
Held every year on National Cancer Survivor's Day, Heaven Can Wait has grown into one of Central Oregon's premiere athletic events and an annual celebration of cancer survivorship.
The inaugural race was held in 2000 after Charlene Levesque — wife of Central Oregon Running Klub (CORK) president Joe Levesque — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Charlene's diagnosis prompted CORK to create a women's event that promotes early detection of cancer and encourages a healthy, active lifestyle.
About 1,000 people participated that first year, raising $23,605. Thirteen years later, Heaven Can Wait has grown: in June, nearly 4,000 people ran or walked, bringing in $104,000 in proceeds.
"The community has been amazing to come out and support this event," Charlene said. "The easy thing about it, unfortunately, is that everyone seems to have been touched by breast cancer in some way — a mother, an aunt, a next door neighbor, a good friend."
While reaching the $1 million benchmark is thrilling, she said, the real accomplishment has been raising awareness of the disease and supporting the women who are battling it.
Money raised by Heaven Can Wait goes toward Sara's Project, a breast health education and outreach partnership that funds research, support services and low-cost or no-cost breast screenings to promote the early detection of breast cancer.
Jacklyn Tallakson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011, is just one of many patients who have benefited from the program.
She received gas cards so she could make it to doctor's appointments, as well as financial assistance with some bills and the cost of compression sleeves for treatment of lymphedema.
"It saved our lives, basically," said Tallakson, who underwent chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries. "I don't know what we would have done without it."