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Walking miles in memory of mom

Kelly Iles and Julie Masson will walk 60 miles in ‘The Breast Cancer 3-Day’ to benefit research

Posted: September 26, 2009 6:41 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Kelly Iles holds a photo of her mother, Kathy Clements, who died of breast cancer on June 3. Iles is reflected in the glass. Her left wrist sports a tattoo in remembrance of her mother.

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They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. For Kelly Iles of Canyon Country, an upcoming three day, 60-mile pilgrimage actually began when her mother Kathy Clements was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago.

Iles and her best friend, Julie Masson of Canyon Country, will join thousands of women in major cities across the country to take part in "The Breast Cancer 3-Day" starting Nov. 20, with proceeds benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure and National Philanthropic Trust, funding important breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment.

They will walk the 3-Day West Coast/San Diego route in honor of Clements, who died of breast cancer on June 3.

They will be decked out in pink shirts bearing their team name: "Kathy's Girlz: Walking for Her Trials," while Iles' sister Katie will undertake the same walk in Tampa, Fla.

"My mom fought her entire battle with such grace, such hope, such generosity. It's because of her that I can walk those 60 miles and take whatever pain comes my way," said Iles, a fourth-grade teacher at Pinetree Community School in Canyon Country. "Because of her, I cannot walk away."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women aside from non-melanoma skin cancer. Breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Hispanic women and the second most common cause of cancer death in white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.

Physicians diagnose cancers in stages, starting at I and ending at IV, which describes the extent or severity of an individual's cancer based on the extent of the original (primary) tumor and the extent of spread in the body. Higher numbers indicate more extensive disease: greater tumor size, and/or spread of the cancer to nearby lymph nodes and/or organs adjacent to the primary tumor.

Clements was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at the age of 45.

"I had just graduated college when my mom was diagnosed. It changed what normal was for our entire family," Iles recalled. "My mom lived life to the fullest though. She said cancer changed her for the better, that it gave her life purpose."

Bolstered by experimental trial medicines and a strong will, Clements managed to live a dozen years without remission. As Masson illustrated, Clements, who lived in Virginia, often bypassed her own discomfort to help others in need.

"At her service, story after story was told about Kathy feeding people that would just show up to her house, that she was always there to listen.

One time Kathy gave a cancer patient the shoes off her own feet because the woman was in pain. That's just who she was," Masson said.

Masson's own family is touched by breast cancer, as well - her mother-in-law, Sandra Masson of Australia, was diagnosed with the disease in 2002 and underwent lumpectomy surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She remains in remission.

"I told my mother-in-law, we are not just walking for Kathy, but for you," said Masson, a nurse at Providence Holy Cross.

Already used to going to the gym three times a week, Iles and Masson have stepped up their workouts to include daily walks on their own. On weekends, the duo meets and walks three to five miles around their Canyon Country neighborhood.

"I already have a blister. We need to get really good shoes and socks and break them in," Masson said. "Pure emotion has gotten us this far, but I know we can do it."

In addition to the 60 miles, Iles and Masson have committed to raising the required $4,600, or $2,300 each, to participate in "The Breast Cancer 3-Day" event.

They are hosting a fundraiser on Oct. 17, with entertainment, refreshments, a raffle, and a silent auction. Note cards featuring original art by Iles son, Brandon, 7, who dubbed one drawing "Nana's Angel," will also be on sale for $5 to $10 per pack.

So far, Iles and Masson have raised nearly $3,900.

"We are overwhelmed by the amount of donations, often from complete strangers, people that have been touched by cancer," Iles said. "It's mothers, daughters, aunts, best friends - cancer used to be something that was whispered about, but now you say the word cancer and everyone seems to have a story to tell."

Since her mother's diagnosis and a case of ovarian cancer detected with another female relative, Iles has been diligent about cancer screening, receiving her first mammogram before she was 30 and annually thereafter. She even boasts a tiny pink ribbon tattoo on the inside of her wrist as a constant reminder.

It's not just the memory of Clements that keeps "Kathy's Girlz" going. It's the future of young girls everywhere.

"I hope breast cancer is not here when Avery grows up," Iles said of her four-year old daughter.

To sponsor Kelly Iles or Julie Masson's Breast Cancer 3 Day mission, visit click on donate, then search for a participant and enter the names. For information about the Oct. 17 fundraiser, e-mail or


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