Twenty years after a small group of women decided to do something to fight breast cancer, the Rays of Hope racked up impressive numbers on Sunday.
About 23,000 people, many wearing pink, packed into the Temple Beth El parking lot for the group's annual fundraiser, all with loved ones on their minds.
"I'm walking for my aunt," said Springfield resident Ryshanda Crapps. "She was in five years remission for breast cancer, but it came back in the spine. I'm walking for her, and I will continue walking. Even if God takes her, I'm going to walk in her memory."
Holyoke resident Omaira Torres had walked previously for someone else. After being diagnosed with breast cancer four months ago, she now had a team of her own.
"It has not been easy," said Torres. "I'm actually going through chemo. I've got two more [sessions] to go. After that, it's just surgery and hopefully I'm cancer free."
Proof that breast cancer can touch everyone - even the woman in charge of Sunday's festivities has a personal story from which to draw inspiration.
"I come here now, not only as the head of the foundation, but I come here as a breast cancer survivor," said Jane Albert, executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation. "So it is personally very meaningful for me that so many people are supporting this cause."
With the thousands upon thousands showing up in Springfield, as well as another 1,000 walkers taking part in Greenfield on Sunday, it gives plenty of hope to current patients like Torres.
"There will be a cure for cancer," Torres stated. "I know a couple of people and now myself have gone through it, and I know someday there will be a cure."
Officials said this year's Rays of Hope walk in Springfield and Greenfield raised a combined $750,000.
In all, the group has raised more than $11 million in its 20 years.
They said all of the money raised stays in Western Massachusetts.
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