Meet Cindy Chaconas, founder of ‘Pink Up The Pace.’ Cindy is an unstoppable force for change in her community… A breast cancer survivor and daughter of a breast cancer survivor, she started ‘Pink Up The Pace,’ a fun – and very pink! – 5k Walk/Run benefitting breast cancer patients.
Can you share a bit about your background… what you did before you found out you were sick and what your plans were then…
I graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Health and Human Performance specializing in Athletic Training and High School Physical Education. When I graduated I went back to Miami and taught High School PE and was an assistant Athletic Trainer for almost a year when I realized I could not do that for the rest of my life. So I went back to Gainesville to get pre-reqs to apply for PA school while working as a physical therapist aide. While working there I realized that physical therapy was similar to athletic training but with a different population group so I decided to go that route.
I applied to a physical therapy graduate school… and I graduated from physical therapy in May 2007 and started working after I took and passed my boards. I worked for a year at a Community Medical Center about an hour away from where I live but didn’t like the commute and was fortunate to have a friend tell me about an opening and got hired at a nearby hospital.
I started working there in September and at that time I was also training for my 4th marathon. By that Fall, my lump got bigger and I went to get a second opinion in late November. By December I started getting testing done and from there the roller coaster took off.
How did you find out? What about your mom… what was that like?
I found out on January 5th after I was told before the end of 2008 that I should call and make an appointment with my doctor regarding my results. I went in and was told that they suspect that I might have breast cancer but they have to do surgery to know for sure. I said, “when can I get it done,” and they said Wednesday, January 7th. I walked across the building to go to the main hospital and told my boss I needed time off because I might have cancer and the tears just started rolling.
I had surgery on the 7th and did not find out until the next day when my doctor came in to check on me and deliver me the news. My family and friends already knew. My mom found out three weeks after I did because my situation gave my mom the courage and motivation to get herself checked as she had felt a lump to. When I found out I was in shock and disbelief. It was hard to take it all on since I was dealing with my own issues and felt bad, as I was not able to be there for her and help her. The distance between us did not help.
How are you both doing now?
We are both good. I am healthy and strong. I am blessed with two beautiful kids and taking things day by day. I have had two scares since the diagnosis but luckily they have been negative. It is something I will be face every year when I have to go in to get my yearly exams. My mom is also healthy but unfortunately her breast cancer required her to take medicine after the chemo and radiation and that has given her side effects that she hopes will get better once she is off the medicine.
How did you go from a patient to someone out there championing a cause for others?
I am really not sure how it happened. My main motivation originally was to raise money for my mom to help her with her treatments since she did not have insurance but realistically it is hard to raise money for one person that does not even live in the town that you are raising the money. But then, I thought, “I can’t imagine how many other women are out there dealing with the same issues my mom is.” Once I started getting the medical bills I got mad with the pharmaceutical companies and realized that if I was lucky enough to raise any money I would barely be able to cover a fraction of the cost. So with my physical therapy background our goal is to delay or avoid surgery if possible. With that in mind, if I could help raise money to aide men and women who have an issue or concern get in the door as soon as possible instead of waiting then maybe we can catch things from a benign lump to an earlier stage before things get to bad and to pricey.
What was it like setting up the Pink up the Pace run for the first time?
A whirlwind. A dream. A lot of hard work. Not sure what I was doing aside from swiping my credit card. But every minute was worth it and memorable. I went to a local running club I belong to and asked how much it would be to put on an event. They said about $10,000! Since I had no money for the race, I used my credit card, and overcharged it! They had a list of how to put on an event, and I reached out to the running club and 20 friends and those were my main helpers as the race grew. Now people will email me to try to help.
What is the greatest achievement of the race?
The greatest achievement I think is the overall support that the community has given the organization and as a result being able to raise the amount of money we have to help raise money for our mission.
In 2009 we had 863 race participants and raised $20,000. In 2010, 1,500 race participants and raised $30,000. In 2012, we had 3,000 race participants and raised $50,000. 2013 we had 2,700 race participants and raised $30,000 and this year we had 2,400 and raised $30,000.
What achievement are you most proud of?
The fact that I have created this organization from a thought during what I felt was one of my worst and lowest points in my life. I would not have been able to create Pink Up The Pace without the support of my husband, family and friends.
How has putting on these races changed you?
I think I’m modest and when people say positive things to me it goes in one ear and out the other. I don’t usually think of myself this way, but now I know I’m capable of putting those big events on and it’s so surreal. Every now and then I realize the impact. I’ve gotten two awards for the work we’ve done, including an American Cancer Society Award and that gets me choked up – I don’t know why. Maybe having kids makes you more sentimental!
Is there one moment or experience in your life that shaped who you have become?
That is hard to say. I think all my life experiences have help mold me. I have a great role model, my mom raised my sister and I as a single mom since I was 6 years of age. I feel like I had to grow up earlier than other kids to help.
How proud are you of the Pink up the Pace and what are your future plans for the race?
People always ask me about the future and its hard to say. Pink Up The Pace will stay a local race as I do not have the time or man power to expand the race to other cities. As long as there is a need in the community we will keep hosting the race as long as we can. My other goal is to do more educational work, to teach women to be advocates of our own bodies because no one else knows our bodies like we do. If you educate girls at an early age, they can be vigilant. So many people are diagnosed and stay quiet. Until it happens to you or your friends, you don’t realize.
What does it mean to you to live boldly?
To take risks in life, challenge yourself.
Who were your heroes or role models growing up? And who do you look up to now?
My mom has always been my hero and role model as she has always been there for my sister and I. She gave us what we needed with love and made sure to give us her all even when things were bad. I don’t think I look up to anyone or have role models. As I get older I am realizing that I am who I am and that I cannot compare my self to others. I need to do what is best for my family and myself. But because I am young there are many people out there who are older and have experienced more than me. So I learn from them and get what I can from their experiences and save that information if ever needed.
If you could offer someone who just found out they have cancer or another serious illness some advice, what would it be?
Take it day by day. As hard as it is try not to worry because it does nothing but make you more anxious. Yes you will have good days and bad days but live for today and not tomorrow. Pretty cliché but as simple as it sounds it is really hard to do.
You have this sense of calm and collectedness about you… where does it come from?
I appreciate the compliment and find it kind off funny as my family might say the opposite how I try to fill my day to the fullest! They say that because it’s the truth – I am a multi tasker and I think that I am pretty good at it!
To learn more about Cindy’s Pink Up The Pace! Race, go to: http://www.pinkupthepace.com