When Monica’s Mom’s best friend died from oral cancer, she called OCF and said, “I want to make a difference and chair the OCF walk in Chicago.” Alison Stahl had chaired the walk for many years, but when Alison moved out of state, a couple of people chaired the walk, but no one stuck with it. The timing of Monica’s call was perfect.

How do you chair an OCF walk when you have no experience? OCF provided the guidelines, online support, banners, stickers, pins, ribbons, and more. Monica had commitments from a couple of friends who offered to help; however, the support never materialized for various reasons. The expression, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person,” is befitting. Monica Baldwin has two young children, ages 3 and 8, works as a hygienist, and holds the position of Secretary for the Illinois Dental Hygiene Association. She found time she didn’t know she had!

As Monica welcomed everyone to the walk, standing on a wooden pallet beside the burgundy and white balloon arch, she confessed she feared the event would be a flop. However, the day before the registration deadline, the numbers doubled! She delayed ordering the T-shirts for more days, and the registrations tripled! One hundred sixteen registrations exceeded her expectations! Another dozen people registered on the day of the walk. Only a handful of names were ones Monica knew.

Sponsors and raffle items were pouring in. It surprised Monica how many individuals and organizations cared about oral cancer awareness as much as she did. Two DSOs (Dental Service Organizations), each with several practices, supported and attended the walk. Also, educators and students from two local schools for dental hygiene had a robust presence helping with The Memory Tree, face-painting, and an educational table on oral health.

These students were particularly emotional when the survivors told their stories, recognizing the impact they could make in saving lives. Chuck, a 19-year survivor, shared the wisdom to listen to your instincts about your health as he told the story of the lump in his neck that doctors said was nothing. I told my personal story of my late-stage diagnosis, questioning why dental professionals didn’t know what was staring at them on the lateral border of my tongue and why oral surgeons never asked for my biopsy even though I continued to complain. Lastly, a survivor, flanked by her doting husband and supportive son, repeated the familiar story of a late diagnosis and the surgery and treatment she was enduring. This story-sharing, the most memorable part of the walk, was concluded by Rebecca, who told the story of losing her twin sister to oral cancer.

The Busse Woods Forest Preserve was Monica’s location for the walk because of the easy, safe, and plentiful parking. Monica had plenty of space to park her SUV with the full-size open cargo trailer, which made the hauling of tables, donations, boxes of fruit, granola bars, and water bottles that much easier.

The Windy City wasn’t windy or cold that October day, adding to the success of this one-woman show! $12K  was raised online, and another $1k at the event. For a first-time effort, Monica deserves a standing ovation.

If you want to host a walk for oral cancer awareness in your area, you will be assigned an OCF team member to guide you. Monica and others who have chaired walks will provide all the support they can to make sure you, as busy as you are, will raise money for a worthy cause and, more importantly, impact awareness about this disease in your community with a rippling effect of saving lives.