Seven years ago, in September 2005, West Deptford resident Teri Messerschmitt made a simple request of her two sisters. She asked them to go for a walk.
Her sisters—Heather Bonaventure of WD and Jeannine MacGarvey of Mt. Ephraim—didn’t hesitate to join Messerschmitt on that walk, despite the fact it was no stroll around the neighborhood. Instead, Messerschmitt was asking her sisters to walk for 60 miles, as a part of the three-day Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure, a national fundraising effort for the fight against breast cancer. Together with their aunt, the sisters formed the team Twisted Sisters. They stepped up and took that three-day challenge, the first year there was a course in Philly, and they’ve done it every year since.
Sixty miles is a long, hard walk for anyone, but the sisters were up to the challenge. They already walked down a much harder road together.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and had a mastectomy,” Messerschmitt says. “My mom was an independent woman who raised five children on her own. She was the bravest and strongest person I’ve ever known. A true fighter.”
“However, her breast cancer came back with a vengeance in 2000. She lost her battle on July 29, 2001, the saddest day of my life,” recalls Messerschmitt, who has also lost her mother-in-law to breast cancer.
“For me, personally, it’s a way to show the legacy of my mom,” adds Bonaventure. “After being diagnosed a second time, she was upset that the legacy she would be leaving her daughters was breast cancer. As usual, she wasn’t concerned for herself when battling this disease. She was worried about her kids.”
But Bonaventure and her sisters know that their mother, Jan Tritthart, left them far more than the fear of a disease. “Her legacy isn’t breast cancer. Her legacy is a strong amazing woman, a woman who showed her daughters how to be strong, independent women,” Bonaventure says.
Then she adds another lesson her mother taught her. “If you believe in something you don’t give up,” Bonaventure says. “That is what I’m doing. I’m not giving up until there is a cure.”
Through the years, others have joined the team, which is now known as Too Twisted. This year’s group includes the girls’ aunt, Lynn Girtain, who is battling cancer, breast cancer survivor Sue Baldwin, and friend Doug Painter, who says, “I walk for my mother-in-law, who is a survivor, as well as to ensure my wife and daughter never need to fight this fight.”
This year, they will be walking in Philadelphia on Oct. 5-7. The course starts at the Willow Grove Mall on Friday and ends at the Navy Yard on Sunday. During the walk, the team will venture by some of the city’s most famous landmarks, including the Philadelphia Zoo, the art museum and the Liberty Bell. But the sisters agree all of these iconic images are mere backdrop to the memorable moments experienced on the walk itself.
“Our first year there was a gentleman who we would see a few times a day with a huge sign hanging on him, asking his wife questions like, 'Honey, I can’t find the remote!' or 'When are you coming home? We’re starving!' His signs always made us laugh and we looked forward to what was coming up next,” recalls Bonaventure.
She also remembers one year on day three, when she was feeling bad due to a hurting hip. “I sat on a bench in Love Park, and I saw a woman with two prosthetic legs walking by,” Bonaventure says. “It really puts things into perspective and show you all the things you have to be grateful for and that you are stronger than you realize.”
“The inspiration on this walk is truly amazing,” she says.
Of course, the amount of funds raised by the walk to battle breast cancer is also amazing. Since the inception of the walk, more than $500 million has been raised through these efforts.
Those participating must raise a minimum of $2,300 per walker. “This year has been especially difficult for me and my teammates (to meet their goal),” Bonaventure says. “As a team, we try to get each teammate to the fundraising minimum of $2,300 so they can walk. If we collect over that, our goal is to pay it forward and help other walkers who are struggling to meet the minimum. Everyone should experience the 3-Day.”
The team has done a variety of fundraising efforts, including a comedy night, Chinese auction, bake sales and collecting outside local Walmarts. A few of the team members are still short of reaching their goal, but the team is rallying together and hope the last-minute push will secure each one a place in this year’s walk.
“I could never complete this walk without my teammates,” Bonaventure says. “They get me through all those miles.”
And at the end, the reward is knowing they are helping to fund the research needed to save other wonderful, strong women like their mother. McGarvey sums it up simply: “I think the best part is when a total stranger walks up to you and with tears in their eyes gives you a hug and thanks you for helping to save their life.”
It may be a long walk to a cure, but the sisters are willing to walk it together, just one foot in front of the other, until there isn’t any need for the walk again.
To support the team, visit Too Twisted's team page for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Philadelphia walk.