When Darlene “Dar” Sojka speaks, her eyes light up. Her smile radiates. She commands the attention from a crowd. Even on a cool, rainy morning, you can feel the fire burning inside of her. It’s a passion inspired by her late sister-in-law, Donna Goodreau. It propels her forward to make a difference in her community through Walk of Champions, a fundraising effort in support of cancer services at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center.
Supporting local care
In 2004, Donna was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, which had already metastasized to her bones. After her diagnosis, she met John O’Neill, founder of Walk of Champions. Realizing there was an event that supported the very care she was getting, Donna asked her family and friends to support Walk of Champions and keep their donated funds local.
Dar and the rest of the family were more than happy to oblige.
“This is where she is getting treated. These are the people who are helping her. This is the place that is giving her medical care. That is where we need to give our support,” said the Ware resident.
The family became involved, supporting the event and Donna along her journey. Donna was able to receive her treatment while continuing to work as a bus driver and serve on the school board. She even opened a new business while she was receiving chemotherapy and treatment.
“Since she was receiving treatment 10 minutes from home, she could make the treatment fit into her life rather than fitting her life into her treatment,” said Dar. “The medical team there helped her for an additional 4.5 years and she got to live a quality life.”
Pushing forward positively
On February 26, 2009, Donna passed away with her family by her side. Dar remembers the feelings she experienced around that time.
“When Donna died I was so angry – I could have gone down a different road. But I chose to do something positive that I knew would help Donna’s legacy. And I hope people will choose that kind of path, too. It lifted a dark cloud.”
Dar served as the Walk of Champions Honorary Chair in 2018 and 2019. She and her family have also started two additional events to support cancer services at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center – Shop for a Cure and D&D Fitness Factory’s Lift for Life/5K Road Race.
The most recent Walk of Champions occurred on a rainy May morning. The weather did not stop hundreds of participants from coming to Quabbin Reservoir all for one reason – to support cancer services at Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center.
From survivors and their supporters, to those who have lost a loved one, the feeling of camaraderie and love is palpable.
“For just that one day, just those few hours, you feel the love. You know that we’re all here to support each other and to help each other,” shared Dar.
Walk of Champions will continue to support the needs of the Baystate Regional Cancer Program in Ware and its surrounding communities. And Dar will continue to be there, smile on her face, and Donna in her heart.
Learn more about how you can give back through Baystate Health Foundation.