‘Love Your ChaChas’ 5K gathers support for breast cancer awareness

The color pink has a special meaning to JoAnne Peña, who founded the breast cancer awareness walk and run, Love Your ChaChas, 10 years ago.

Peña said that the color pink reminds her of her mother and sister who both died of breast cancer, and the tremendous support she has found from people by organizing the 5K event.

“Pink means love to me,” Peña, of McAllen, said. “Pink means my mom; pink means my sister; pink means all the women I have met through this 10-year journey.

“Pink is very important to me, pink means a lot of people to me.”

In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, several walk and run marathons are taking place in the Rio Grande Valley to show support and raise donations for research of the disease, one being Love Your ChaChas.

The annual run and walk will start at 7 a.m. Saturday at the Tres Lagos park, located at 4350 Tres Lagos Blvd. in McAllen. Individual entry fees are $25, $20 per person for a team of 10 or more, $10 for breast cancer survivors and $20 for university students.

In the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in females; there is a 1 in 8 chance an American woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and a 1 in 38 chance they will die from it.

Peña said that the mission of Love Your ChaChas is to encourage women to perform regular self-checks on their breasts and learn how to identify early stages of breast cancer.

“It’s not about raising money, it is about raising awareness — that is the number one priority,” Peña said. “I am not waiting for a cure. Our slogan is ‘early detection will save your life.’

“You need to get your chachas checked.”

The event’s namesake is Peña’s mother, Celia, who went by the nickname ChaCha. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and died five years later in 2008. Peña’s older sister, Sandie, was also fighting breast cancer, and succumbed a year after.

After losing her sister, Peña decided to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, 60-mile walk in Dallas that year. And to raise the $2,300 participation fee, she put on her own breast cancer awareness event.

Over 100 people attended the first Love Your ChaChas walk and run, which then doubled the next year. By the fifth annual event, over 1,000 people were participating. Last year, Peña had to cap the number of participants at 1,200.

The money collected at Love Your ChaChas will be donated to the Renaissance Cancer Foundation, and Peña’s participation fee in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer awareness 60-mile walk this year.

Peña added that the Sonic Drive-In on 2222 W. University Drive in Edinburg, agreed to donate lemon-lime slushies to all participants on Saturday, since they were her sister’s favorite.

This year’s medal is in the shape of a heart, which has a hole that fits the key-shaped medallion from last year’s event.

“It’s because my mom and sister have the key to my heart,” Peña said.

La Joya will also be pink-clad this weekend, as the annual La Joya ISD Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, which will take place at the Coyote Stadium in La Joya is set for Saturday morning.

Registration for this event starts at 7:30 a.m., and the walk will begin at 8:15 a.m.

And later this month, Mission Regional Medical Center will be honoring survivors of breast cancer and supporting fighters Saturday, Oct. 12, with the 10th annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk and run.

Registration begins at 7 a.m., and the run is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. The entrance fee is $25 for regular participants, and $30 for runners.

This is the first year that the event is organized with a partnership with the American Cancer Society, and all proceeds will go towards American Cancer Society patient programs in the RGV.