ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca’s Waterfront Trail was a celebration Saturday, Oct. 5, for the Cancer Resource Center’s annual Walkathon and 5K. Participants sported pink and colorful gear, musicians along the way filled the route with music, and in total about 830 people turned out to support the local organization that makes sure people affected by cancer do not face it alone.

This year, the nonprofit organization is celebrating a big milestone — 25 years in the community. Its annual Walkathon and 5K has become a key fundraiser over the years, contributing to a third of their operating budget. In 1994, an awareness walk raised just over $4,000. This year, the event brought in $178,000, according to Marilee Murphy, executive director of the Cancer Resource Center.

The Cancer Resource Center is still accepting donations until the end of the year, with a few perks depending on how much you raise.

Cancer Resource Center 2019 Walkathon & 5K. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
Cancer Resource Center 2019 Walkathon & 5K. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Murphy was appointed executive director of the Cancer Resource Center in April. She is a longtime resident of Ithaca with a background in healthcare. Following Saturday’s event, she said the only thing she can say is “thank you.”

“It’s the most heartwarming, inspiring experience to have the community come out that way,” Murphy said. “We just cannot do what we do without the community support.”

In 1994, nine women came together to form an organization to support people diagnosed with breast cancer. Called the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance, it was formed to help cancer patients navigate difficult decisions, cope and understand their diagnosis. Over the years, that small, but strong network of the Ithaca Breast Cancer Alliance has transformed into the Cancer Resource Center — an organization that has a similar mission at its heart, but now serves people with all types of cancers.

Marilee Murphy, executive director of the Cancer Resource Center. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
Marilee Murphy, executive director of the Cancer Resource Center. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

With a mission to ensure “no one has to face cancer alone,” the Cancer Resource Center makes life outside of the hospital a little easier.

“There’s the whole other world outside of treatment that we’re filling, that big gap of emotional support, structural support, things like providing free bus tickets,” says Marilee Murphy, executive director of the Cancer Resource Center.

Two founding members of IBCA recently shared why they started the organization in a video for the Cancer Resource Center. Anne McLaughlin, one of the founders, said when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she found there was little to no support services available in Ithaca.

“For a young woman with two young kids, it was an incredibly isolating experience,” McLaughlin said. “There was no one to talk to. So I basically went for six months without talking to a single woman who had breast cancer.”

Murphy said the organization today is thanks to the “tireless energy and passion of these women who had all gone through breast cancer and understood what was needed in the community.”

The Cancer Resource Center supports people affected by cancer, whether that is the person themselves or their loved ones. They offer support groups, financial advocacy and assistance, travel help, wigs and other headcovers in their boutique, wellness programs and many resources and guides online and in person.

Support from the community, in the form of donations and volunteers, help the organization thrive. According to their 2018-19 annual report, more than 80 volunteers helped with programs, fundraising and other functions of the organization. Murphy said about 65% of their budget comes from donations.

“Getting people to turn out and participate is really important for our financial survival,” Murphy said. “We’ve been able to make it because they’ve turned out and supported us.”

Moving forward, Murphy said she would love to see the Center grow, add more programs and reach more people, especially to diverse populations and people in the rural areas of Tompkins County.

Throughout its history, the Cancer Resource Center has been about relationships.

“In 25 years, it’s been connections and relationships that have helped us to grow and which currently still sustain us — whether it be relationships with individuals in the community, with businesses, we have great business support, this relationship with Cornell … the relationship with Cayuga Medical Center,” Murphy said. “These relationships are incredible.”

Learn more about the Cancer Resource Center here.

Featured image by Reed Huegerich. (Provided courtesy of the Cancer Resource Center)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.