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Saskia's Warriors Prove the Power of Community

This January, as Saskia de Jongh was riding the T on the way to a doctor’s appointment, she looked out the window and saw a billboard for the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer. Immediately, she said, she felt inspired.

  • Saskia's Warriors will walk the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer this July in Boston.
  • Saskia's Warriors will walk the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer this July in Boston.

“I really felt like this is something I want to do,” de Jongh said. “It’s important, it’s a great cause.”

Training for the fundraising walk wouldn’t be easy, however.

De Jongh was diagnosed with an advanced form of breast cancer in August 2015. She was on her way to a pre-surgical appointment- just one day away from surgery as part of her breast cancer treatment- when she saw the advertisement for the Avon 39, which raises money for breast cancer research, treatment and prevention.

Still, she reached out to a group of friends from work and from her sons’ school community at the British International School of Boston, and asked if anyone wanted to form a team to complete the 39.3 mile walk, held in Boston this July. The response, she said, was amazing.

“I always knew the school community was very tight, and welcoming, but in an individual case like mine, it’s still overwhelming to see so much support and so many people that wanted to help,” de Jongh said.

Since January, the team’s efforts have snowballed.

What began as a few friends deciding to participate in the walk has expanded to a team of 15 women, dubbed Saskia’s Warriors, working together to raise $39,300 by July. The group has designed logos, T-shirts, a fundraising website and social media campaigns, and is organizing a number of fundraising events this spring for the cause.

The whole operation, said BISB parent and Saskia’s Warrior member Ida de Vries, has incredible to be a part of.

“It was very uplifting and gave me the idea that everything was possible,” de Vries said. “I was so impressed by all the talents that everyone displayed. You could tell that many moms brought in extensive work and personal experiences from different, cultural background... So far it has felt like a huge collaborative effort toward a very important goal: to help Saskia recover and also to help others with treatment or prevention.”

Saskia’s Warriors began their training soon after de Jongh’s surgery in January. While de Jongh herself could only walk very short distances during her recovery, she kept working until she could participate in training walks with the other women on her team.

Now the women meet regularly to complete long walks around the city and surrounding towns, and use an app to track each other’s workouts and inspire healthy competition.

To help raise money for the cause, the group has planned a number of fundraisers this spring. The team’s largest fundraising event, the CURE Party, will be held Thursday, May 19 at Cure Lounge in Boston. Guests are encouraged to wear pink and black and to come together to dance the night away in support of breast cancer research.

For the women involved in Saskia’s Warriors, the team’s efforts to train and fundraise have been an important reminder of the power of community.

“It’s reassuring, comforting, inspiring and exhilarating all at the same time,” said Caroline Valentini, a member of Saskia’s Warriors and a parent at BISB. “We all lead busy lives and come from different parts of the world but we have found, in addition to school, a common goal that unites us. Saskia is so dignified and courageous that you can’t help but be motivated by her strength and her determination to beat cancer.”

BISB parent Audrey Sadka, who is also part of the Saskia’s Warriors team, said the strength of the school community is especially important because of the international nature of the school.

“Most of us, we’re in the same situation in the sense that we don’t have all our families here,” Sadka said. “The school community is our family. We spend days, weekends, vacations together...I think that makes this the tight-knit community that it is.”

Saskia’s Warriors will continue their training and their fundraising leading up to the Avon 39 on July 9-10, 2016. For de Jongh, the journey to prepare for the walk so far has been an important part of her battle against breast cancer.

While she should complete radiation by the beginning of April, she will continue to undergo hormonal treatments for several years. And the risk of the cancer returning, she said, could still loom for some time, making the support of her friends, family and school community that much more important.

“All of the events and the walk itself are really celebrating life,” de Jongh said. “I want to celebrate that I got through this, I want to celebrate my friendships and how great life is….Everyone was so engaged from the start. The dedication that everyone puts into this is really amazing to me.”

How you can help

To learn more about Saskia’s Warriors and how you can help support their fundraising efforts, visit www.saskiaswarriors.com. To buy tickets to CURE Party on May 19, visit the Eventbrite page. Be sure to also like Saskia’s Warriors on Facebook and follow the team on Twitter.