Nunavut women gear up for another long trek for breast cancer
Journey will take them from Rankin Inlet to Whale Cove and back
Ten Nunavut women — hearty souls with good footwear — are planning to walk from Rankin Inlet to Whale Cove and back again in May to raise money for breast cancer research.
That’s about 200 kilometres. And yes, we said walk.
“I’m getting excited,” said Edna Elias, Commissioner of Nunavut. “This year, because of some back problems and a cold recently, I’m not as well trained right now but I will be. It’s going to go into full steam ahead pretty soon.”
This is the second time Elias will make such a journey on behalf of a group called Women in Action — Steps of Hope.
With the help of volunteer guides on snowmobiles who hauled their gear and kept them safe and on track, she and five others trekked for 220 kilometres over 13 days from Bay Chimo to Cambridge Bay in May 2012.
They raised $92,000, she said, far exceeding their goal of $80,000.
That money went to the Alberta Cancer Foundation which in turn supports the breast cancer research team at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, Elias said.
The women, who slept in tents along the route and prepared most of their own food, managed to cover about 21 kms each day over ice, slush and through fog and blowing snow, ignoring sore backs, knees, hips and blisters.
Elias said she rarely got more than three or four hours of sleep each night because of pain related to a back issue but she, and her colleagues, were determined to finish.
“I was going on adrenaline,” she said. “That’s sheer stubbornness, sheer determination to complete what I set out to do,” she said. “The support and motivation of each other got us to the finish line.
Elias lost her younger sister to breast cancer about five years ago. Margaret was only 46.
“I walked for a number of people and the list grows, as time passes,” she said. “I include myself too. I’m doing it in my own honour, that I will never become afflicted with breast cancer, or cancer of any form.”
So far, women from all three regions of Nunavut have committed to layering up and challenging their fitness for the spring journey in Kivalliq.
• Wynter Kuliktana and Anne Garrett from Kugluktuk;
• Kim Crockatt from Cambridge Bay;
• Jesse Mike and Elias from Iqaluit; and,
• Adrianna Kusugak, Sandy Kusugak, Jukipa Anderson, Silu Sarliaq and Bernadette Dean from Rankin Inlet.
Crockatt, executive director of Ilitaqsiniq (Nunavut Literacy Council), was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer in January 2010.
She underwent a year and a half of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in Edmonton and is still undergoing reconstructive surgeries.
She’s walking to raise money so other women can enjoy the same level of care she received. And for other reasons as well.
“I guess I want people to stop looking at me like I’m sick and look at me as someone strong,” wrote Crockatt, mother of nine adopted children, grandmother of five, and foster mother to 51 children over the years. “I totally don’t mind talking about it but not if I’m looked at with pity.”
Despite the ordeal that comes with beating back cancer, she’s keen to join the trek in May.
Crockatt, who was born in Ottawa and has lived in Cambridge Bay since 1989, said she’s been training hard on the treadmill and working on core strength but she also calls herself “a mentally strong person” who is used to outdoor labour from jobs in her youth.
She also got some help from her son Colin who is a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in Manitoba.
“He gave us some real military workouts over Christmas,” she wrote in an email, recovering from the flu at her home in Cambridge Bay. “Took us a few days to move again!!”
The group may have a celebrity along for the trek. Laureen Harper, wife of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, told Elias on a couple of occasions that she wanted to participate in their next walk, “but she’s still on the fence.”
We contacted Harper’s executive assistant but did not hear back.
Elias said she’s a little behind on her training but she will begin soon, in earnest, to build strength and endurance for the trip.
The group still needs to figure out who the Kivalliq guides will be and get fundraising activities in gear but all that will fall into place within the next month or two.
Thinking back, Elias said there’s not much she plans to change about this trip. She just hopes people support the team the same way they did in 2012.
While they walked, donations rolled in, and so did support on the ground.
As they got closer to Cambridge Bay, people would come out on their snowmobiles to bring them treats and encourage them to continue, she said.
One Cambridge Bay family made three pans of lasagna and brought them to the group, piping hot, with fresh fruit, Elias said.
“I’ve never experienced such an exhilarating feeling, coming over the last rise of Cambridge Bay, off the sea ice, a long gradual slope, you start to see the rooftops of houses across the bay, and then the houses and then all the people out on the bay waiting for us,” she said.
“We cried tears of happiness and tears of pain.”