"I didn't know I was so loved until I got cancer."

That's what survivor Rosa Duran-Perez had to say Saturday morning at the 21st walk for the Cause, an event hosted by Soroptimist International of Albany.

Since 1983, the philanthropic women's group has raised funds for women's and children's health causes. Walk for a Cause raises grant money for not only breast cancer, but also for various other causes throughout Linn County.

The walkers followed a route a little more than 3 miles long that took them from the Linn County Courthouse to along the waterfront on the Dave Clark Trail almost to Bowman Park, and then back down Water Avenue toward Bryant Park, and back again to the courthouse.

And while the participants bring a mix of laughter and a stiff upper lip, it's clear that their efforts to help fight the illness do pay off.  The walk has to date raised more than $700,000, last year netting $35,000. The Soroptimists this year were able to fund half of a grant for a mammography chair at Lebanon Community Hospital.

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Rosa's words set the tone for the event, where 700 people on 40 teams showed up to walk, raise money, and laugh as much as they could while supporting cancer patients, survivors, and research. She was one of 11 grand marshals in the event, all survivors.

Two of those survivors, Gabby and Michelle Fief, a mother and daughter, tell a special story. Gabby, now an Oregon State University student, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 11. Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer at 47. Michelle's mother (Gabby's grandmother) died from the disease. 

This is the undercurrent of the walk: a celebration ringed with heavy hearts. But the fun the participants have and the costumes they wear announce that life goes on. A father and daughter who lost a wife and mother just four years ago walked with the team Stinkin' Cancer. It was not without tears that they told their story. And another, Albany resident Brian Oare, dressed in bunny ears and a tutu, had to take a break as he teared up while talking about his wife, Mary, a 10-year survivor.

"I love my wife," he said finally, delivering the words with a finality and sense of redemption.

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Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net