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Flames of Hope draws thousands to honor cancer survivors, patients

Weekend events designed to raise awareness, funds for developing innovative cancer treatments

Over 100,000 people came to Providence last weekend for the 10th annual “Flames of Hope: A Celebration of Life” event held by the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. The downtown gathering featured a variety of programs and speakers Saturday and races Sunday.

In past years, the weekend focused exclusively on honoring breast cancer patients and survivors, but this year included patients and survivors of all cancers, as well as their families and friends. Maureen DiPiero, the community outreach coordinator and health educator for the foundation, said that because the needs of all cancer patients are similar to those of breast cancer patients, they could all benefit from the free education and support.

More than 30 vendors set up tables in the ballroom of the Renaissance Providence Hotel Saturday morning. Each vendor provided services and information related to healthy living and cancer care, including acupuncture therapy and nipple and areola tattooing. Representatives from Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island also attended the event to answer questions about resources. Next door at the Veterans Memorial, attendees could visit the “survivors lounge,” nutrition lab, general relaxation area and bookstore to explore additional services.

Three nationally acclaimed writers spoke at the celebration: Barbara Musser, author of “Sexy After Cancer,” Michael Samuelson, author of “Beyond Cancer Survival: Living a Life of Thrival”  and Geralyn Lucas, author of “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy.”

Members of the University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team volunteered for the second year in a row. Brianna Thomas, a URI senior, helped direct people toward the events on each floor of the Renaissance Providence Hotel. “It’s cool to see so many people helping for an event like this, and it’s cool to be a part of it as well,” she said.

At 3 p.m. the “Celebration Village” in Station Park offered live music, food and dancing. The division between the education component and the celebration marked a change from past years, Dipiero said, adding that when information was provided under one tent in the park directly adjacent to the music and food, “people could get sidetracked from getting needed information.”

The separation was essential to event volunteer Yvonne Bell, who worked Saturday morning alongside her sister, Anna Rodrigues. A two-time breast cancer survivor from Smithfield, R.I., Bell said her greatest hope for the weekend was that visitors would walk away with an understanding of the importance of getting tested regularly for breast cancer or other types of cancer.

“Don’t wait,” she said. “Don’t hesitate. Don’t say it will go away.”

Members of The State Ballet of Rhode Island took to the steps of the State House Saturday evening to commence the Illumination of Life program, which honors “breast cancer survivors, families who take care of them and memorializes some that have been lost to breast cancer in the past,” Dipiero said. After the ballet performance, 150 people carrying torches processed from the State House, lit up in pink, to the river basin, where they proceeded to light the fires for Saturday’s WaterFire, which was sponsored by the foundation.

Carrying a torch required a minimum contribution of $500 to help fund the foundation’s Hope Bus, an RV that travels around Rhode Island to provide cancer-related education and support to students, adults and families.

“For some it’s healing, for some it might be sadness and an intense feeling of loss and for others it’s a celebration — I made it through, I’m here, I’m alive,” Dipiero said of the Illumination of Life.

Money raised by torch bearers was only one component of the fundraising for the weekend. The Flames of Hope Run/Walk series, which took place on Sunday, is the foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year. They hoped to collect $300,000 through registration fees and additional sponsorship of each participant in one of three different races. As of press time, $200,746 had been raised toward that goal, according to the group’s website.

With just eight staff members working at the Gloria Gemma foundation, the help of many volunteers was crucial to the success of the weekend, Dipiero said.


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