When Central Point resident Ruby Mills tackled part of the 60-mile Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk in Seattle in 2016 with a handful of family members, onlookers might have suspected the octogenarian with the walker was accomplishing a bucket list item of sorts.
Admittedly feisty as she nears 85 in May, Mills will be back this year looking to walk more of the three-day event than she did last time, and in hopes of boosting research efforts against a deadly disease that has affected too many members of her family.
Mills and her extended family are tasked with raising more than $16,000 to compete as their own team for the Sept. 14-16 event.
Mills raised funds for the 2016 event with her baking expertise. At that point, two of her three daughters had battled cancer. Now all three daughters have battled the disease, and Mills, who has never had cancer, is more determined than ever.
An Oklahoma native who moved to Oregon in 1955, Mills lost her grandmother to cancer before she was born. Her mother died when Mills was just 5, from cancer or conditions related to the disease. Two of Mills' daughters were diagnosed with breast cancer within eight weeks of one another in 2016.
“We’ve had at least 22, it’s hard to count them all up. And not just breast cancer. Breast cancer, we’ve had at least 10. All three of my daughters, my mother … I never knew my grandmother because of cancer; four nieces, a cousin, two sisters-in-law … it’s quite a list, Mills said.
“The moment it hit my first daughter, it became very personal for me. By the time it hit the third daughter ... I am out to get that sucker!”
Mills and the women in her family began monthly bake sales at the beginning of the year and are relying on a St. Patrick’s Day bake-a-thon to raise the money required to enter their team in the Seattle walk.
The bake sale will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, March 17, at Sherm's Food 4 Less, 2230 Biddle Road, Medford.
Known for a mean loaf of bread and an almost dangerous cinnamon roll, Mill said using family recipes to raise money was a way to honor loved ones who have battled the disease for themselves or others.
One recipe, Aunt Hettie’s Sweet Potato Cake, was passed down from her Aunt Hettie Morgan, a breast cancer survivor who lived to be 94 after a cancer battle in her 70s.
Orcas Island resident Dottie Cornelius, the team leader and the baby of Mills' five children, said the family tradition of baking and walking for a cure was an important way to bond and to fund research.
Each of the seven members on the team, dubbed the Island Girls, must raise $2,300 to be eligible to walk in the event.
Cornelius, who has walked the Susan G. Komen annually for a decade, said the family doesn't know why they have such a high rate of cancer, but they are sure of the family’s resolve to help fund a cure.
“We’ve been lucky in that we’ve all had pretty easy forms of cancer to deal with. I also really believe, because of all the research and new treatment and diagnostics we have, our experiences have been more minimal than they could have been,” Cornelius said.
“We feel very lucky to have the survival rate that we do and that we can do this together as a family. We all stand behind my mom. This has been a really important thing for her to do and for us all to do together.”
Four generations will walk in event, and this year a fifth generation, Mills' great-great grandchildren, will greet them at the finish line.
In addition to Aunt Hettie’s Sweet Potato Cake, big bake-sale sellers include peach pie, made from peaches off Mills' own trees, the family’s sellout cinnamon rolls and Mills own Big Mama’s White Bread, in honor of the nickname she was given by her great-grandbabies.
“All my great-grands call me Big Mama. It started with my first great-grandchild. We were talking on the phone and they told him to say hi to his great-grandma. He would always say, ‘Big mama!’ My daughter would keep trying to correct him, and I told her, ‘You leave that baby alone, I like it!’ So all the others call me Big Mama now, too.”
“My hope is that someday you’ll be able to hear a child say, ‘What do you mean when you say cancer? What's cancer?’ ” Mills said.
“It would be my hope I could hear that in my lifetime, but I know it won’t be so. Maybe in my children’s lifetime, though. Maybe they’ll be able to hear that from their great-grandchildren. Can you imagine?”
For more information or to donate to the Island Girls team, see the website at http://bit.ly/2FhSmxB or the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IslandGirlsSKG/
— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.