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Kathie Ward, a retired nurse and breast cancer survivor, launched the annual Bright Run in 2008.Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

The organizer: Kathie Ward

The pitch: Co-founding the BRIGHT Run in Hamilton

In 2007 a group of breast cancer patients at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton approached doctors and nurses with an unusual request.

They wanted to do something to help fund research at the hospital and they asked staff to come up with an idea. The hospital created a committee consisting of six doctors, nurses and therapists who went to work. “We said, okay, the patients have spoken, let’s see something,” recalled Kathie Ward, a committee member who worked as a chemotherapy nurse at the time.

Ms. Ward had a unique perspective on cancer treatment. She’d been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 and had gone through years of surgery and chemotherapy. The experience helped her connect with patients who often struggled with treatment. “I would say to staff, ‘Just be grateful you’re not sitting in that chair because I know what it’s like,’” she said.

The committee launched the BRIGHT Run – Breast Cancer Research in Greater Hamilton Today – in September, 2008, and they hoped to raise a few thousand dollars. Instead roughly 1,000 people participated and they collected $250,000 in donations. Since then the annual walk-run event has raised $4.7-million in total. The money has funded 16 research projects, a new ultrasound machine and a research chair at McMaster University. “It has really been amazing,” Ms. Ward said. “We thought it was going to be a little event.”

Ms. Ward, 68, retired from nursing three years ago but she’s still involved with the run and hopes it will top the $5-million mark next year. She added that the event has become much more than a fundraising vehicle. “It’s like a family reunion and we celebrate what we have done, what we’ve accomplished together,” she said.

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