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Posted October 25, 2012

Four APS Employees Raise Thousands, Commit to Walking 60 Miles for Breast Cancer Cure

Teacher and cancer survivor Jennifer Abeyta, counselor Cristen Ponder, nurse Maggie Nechvatal and principal Erica Hidalgo formed a team that will walk a combined 240 miles in November as part of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day in hopes of finding a cure for breast cancer.

To donate to the Sandia Peaks team, go here and search for the team or a participant's name.

Four APS school employees – a teacher, counselor, nurse and principal – have raised more than $10,000 and are planning to walk a combined 240 miles to help find a cure for breast cancer.

The four, including breast cancer survivor Jennifer Abeyta, a third-grade teacher at Painted Sky Elementary, will participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk in San Diego Nov. 16-18. Each has earned thousands of dollars in pledges for the journey that will take them 60 miles over three days in a fundraiser for breast cancer research.

The other three members of the team, which calls itself the Sandia Peaks, are Maggie Nechvatal, the school nurse at Eldorado High; Cristen Ponder, counselor at Chelwood Elementary; and Erica Hidalgo, principal at Painted Sky.

The team continues to raise money for the walk as they wind up their training over the next few weeks. Donations can be made by going to and searching for their team or any participant’s name.

The four team members have different motivations for walking. Each explains why she feels compelled to participate in this event that has required a year of training and fundraising.

Jennifer Abeyta, third-grade teacher, Painted Sky ES

"You want to know why I walk?  Quite frankly, I choose to look at it as, why WOULDN’T I walk.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2008.  I had just lost my step-father to cancer and a very close family friend as well.  I cringed at the thought of telling my mother about my diagnosis.  Her emotional wounds were still too fresh, and now, right after losing her husband, I had to deliver the blow that I had to fight the fight of my life.  I was only 38.  My three kids were 2, 4 and 6. 

My mom lived in Seattle at the time.  A co-worker of hers had participated in the Seattle Komen 3-Day.  For him, it was a life changing experience.  For us, it became a goal and a symbol of healing.  The Seattle 3-Day took place literally three days after I finished radiation.  Up to this point, I had already undergone a radical mastectomy, 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 36 radiation treatments.  I was still nearly bald, raw, burned and blistered from my treatments. I was still facing five surgeries and drug therapy. I showed up along with thousands of others, and I walked every step of those 60 miles.

Cancer is brutal.  I could go on and on about the toll it has taken on my family.  But then there is the human factor, the human kindness that cancer cannot douse.  Without cancer, I would not have received the outpouring of support from old friends and new.  I would have missed the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible people.  The 3-Day is my opportunity to do something positive and not allow cancer to have the final say.  I am but one of many (too many) APS teachers, and employees who has been stricken with this disease.  Why WOULDN’T I walk?"

Maggie Nechvatal, school nurse, Eldorado High School

"I have not been personally touched by breast cancer but several of my friends have had to endure the painful process of diagnosis and treatment of this devastating disease.  I watched as my brave friends endured their treatments.  I felt powerless to really help these dear women and their families. I made a commitment to do all I could to find a cure. Walking 60 miles over three days is my way of honoring all who have been affected by breast cancer.  I chose to participate in the Susan G. Komen walk now because I know there will come a time when I can no longer walk 60 miles.  Now is not that time.  I will walk in November.  I am asking others to donate.  Together, we will find a cure." 

Cristin Calhoun-Ponder, school counselor, Chelwood Elementary School

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a young girl. I watched her struggle with the diagnosis, the treatments, the surgeries and the long recovery. I worried about her and whether or not I would have a mom growing up. In November, I will walk for my mom who is a survivor of breast cancer, but I will also be walking for all the men, women and children who have been affected by this disease because everyone deserves a lifetime. This is my opportunity to raise money and do all I can to help find a cure for breast cancer."

Erica Hidalgo, principal, Painted Sky Elementary

"Four years before my 40th birthday I created a list of 40 things I wanted to do before I turned 40. On my list I included things like scuba diving, bungee jumping and world travel. While I wanted to accomplish goals that pushed me beyond my comfort zone, I wanted to do something that was greater than me. From my circle of close childhood friends, I have a friend with breast cancer, one with brain cancer, one with bladder cancer and one with colon cancer -- all of whom were diagnosed prior to their 40th birthday. In my circle of adult friends and professional colleagues I have encountered more than a dozen women diagnosed with breast cancer prior to the age of 40. Participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day has allowed me to push my personal boundaries, raise money for cancer research and support cancer patients. I'd also like to bring attention to the lack of cancer screening for people under the age of 40."

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