Yokes Strong: The story behind the largest team in Come Walk With Me history
By McKenna Ownby
When Patti Yokes was told she had breast cancer in August 2017, she wasn’t completely surprised.
“I had a gut feeling because breast cancer runs in the family,” Patti explains. “My mother had it and so did my aunt, so I kind of always thought maybe I would one day, too.”
It’s true that women with close relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have a higher risk of developing it themselves. If you’ve had one first-degree female relative who has received a diagnosis — like a sister or mother — your risk can double.
What came as more of a shock to Patti and her family was that, unlike her mom and aunt, Patti’s cancer came back a second time.
“The second diagnosis was scarier than the first,” she says. “I was surprised because it’s never returned for anyone else in my family and I thought we had over-treated it.”
Just eight months earlier, Patti opted to have a double mastectomy, thinking that would be the end of it. She was first diagnosed with lobular breast cancer (which is known to spread more easily), so surgery was the best choice at the time.
Then in June 2018, Patti was on a family trip in Lake Chelan when she noticed a lump near her armpit. She soon learned that the cancer cells had returned and spread to her lymph nodes.
“I thought it was nothing, but I still felt it the next night when I went to bed,” she recalls. “So, I called my doctor and she told me to get an ultrasound. I ended up finding out on my birthday.”
Patients and survivors like Patti are the reason for Come Walk With Me, a breast cancer fundraising walk in Pierce County that’s held on the first Saturday in October each year.
Patti first learned about the event in 2018 when she visited the Dr. Richard C. Ostenson Cancer Resource Center. She had no idea that many of the services available to patients through the resource center were funded by the walk — things like free wigs and complimentary wig fittings, for example, which she received while going through treatment.
“I was so impressed with everything I had available to me, and I just thought, how can I support this? How can I give back?” Patti says.
She asked Tamara Miller, community consultant for the cancer center, what she could do to help, and Miller told her about Come Walk With Me.
“Before cancer, I used to do a lot of running,” Patti says. “The Rock ‘n Roll half marathon in Seattle, the Hot Chocolate 15K, things like that. So when I found out about this walk and that it could help other people going through the same thing I was, I knew I just had to do it.”
She signed up right away and took her participation a step further by starting her own team, Yokes Strong — a team that grew to be the largest in the history of the event at 105 members. Her granddaughter was the first to encourage her to create the team because she wanted to walk with her. Then her husband shared it with his coworkers, and the rest is history.
“My husband is a home builder, so he works with lots of people from different industries and we’ve made a lot of connections over the years that way,” Patti explains. “He shared it with his subcontractors, and it really just took off from there. It was really cool because they all had a story. Realtors, mortgage lenders; it seemed like almost everyone had a connection in some way.
“The owner of Rainier View Plumbing & Rooter said his mom had cancer and used some of the same services I did,” she continued. “He paid for his entire office do the walk. I also shared it with my former colleagues from Intel. It was really incredible to see that people other than our close family and friends wanted to participate.”
Last year, Yokes Strong raised more than $13,000 to support breast health programs and services at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital. Patti herself is still undergoing treatments to keep her cancer from spreading, but she doesn’t let that slow her down.
Yokes Strong is back in full force for 2019.
“The last event was such a great experience for me,” Patti says. “Not only were my family, friends and coworkers all there to show their support, but my mom was there too — 21 years after her diagnosis.”
This year marks the 15th anniversary of walking together in support of breast cancer patients and survivors in Pierce County through Come Walk With Me. Learn more at comewalkwithme5k.org.
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