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Francestown mother walks to end breast cancer

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard puts on her shoes prior to a walk from her Francestown home on Thursday. Whipple-Simard will take part in the two-day, 39-mile, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard puts on her shoes prior to a walk from her Francestown home on Thursday. Whipple-Simard will take part in the two-day, 39-mile, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard walks down Potash Road in Francestown with her dog Millie, a 5 1/2 month black lab mix, during a training session on Thursday in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston this May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard walks down Potash Road in Francestown with her dog Millie, a 5 1/2 month black lab mix, during a training session on Thursday in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston this May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard puts on her shoes prior to a walk from her Francestown home on Thursday. Whipple-Simard will take part in the two-day, 39-mile, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard walks down Potash Road in Francestown with her dog Millie, a 5 1/2 month black lab mix, during a training session on Thursday in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston this May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Heather Whipple-Simard of Francestown walks down Potash Road with her dog Millie in preparation for the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer in Boston in May.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

Heather Whipple-Simard was just 19 and a freshman at Plymouth State when her mom, Nan, lost her battle with breast cancer at age 44.

And while it happened more than 23 years ago, the fight against breast cancer is a cause that is still near and dear to her heart.

Almost five years ago, Whipple-Simard, who lives in Francestown with her husband Steve and their five children, lost her mother-in-law, Claire Simard, to the deadly disease. Whipple-Simard’s grandmother, whom she never met, also died of cancer.

So when Whipple-Simard begins the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer on May 18 in Boston, she will have plenty of inspiration to carry her through the 39-mile loop. Over the course of two days, Whipple-Simard will navigate the course through the streets of Boston with the goal of ending breast cancer. Each walker is charged with raising at least $1,800 and all the money will go to patients in the New England area currently battling the deadly disease.

Whipple-Simard will walk the equivalent of a marathon on May 18, about 26 miles from the University of Massachusetts near the Boston Harbor to the Reebok World Headquarters in Canton. After a much deserved night of sleep, Whipple-Simard will slip her feet back into her bright pink New Balance sneakers and walk another 13 miles to the finish line, back at the University of Massachusetts.

“It’s a lot to walk a marathon,” said Whipple-Simard. “I laugh at people who say it’s just walking. It’s really hard to finish that marathon day.”

It will be the third straight year that Whipple-Simard has participated in the walk, something she really looks forward to. The first year went well, especially since she really wasn’t sure what to expect, but last year was a struggle. She got blisters all over her feet, walked part of the second day in Birkenstocks and ended up losing five toenails in the months following the walk.

“It’s very rewarding, no matter how many blisters you get or toenails you lose,” said Whipple-Simard. “It’s work, but it’s very gratifying. You really feel like you’re giving back to the community that’s fighting breast cancer.”

And one thing she has learned is to make sure her feet are well taken care of.

“You’ve got to find the right shoes,” said Whipple-Simard.

But the most important thing for Whipple-Simard was that she finished both times. It may sound like an easy task, but that is far from the case.

“My mind always goes to people that are in it and fighting the fight,” said Whipple-Simard, referring to people with cancer.

The first day ends up taking between eight and nine hours, and the second leg of the walk is done with a lot of aches and pains from the grueling 26-mile walk on day one.

“Muscles are tight, muscles are sore and you have to make sure you’re eating,” said Whipple-Simard. “But when you wake up the second day, it’s like all I have left is a half marathon.”

Whipple-Simard has walked each time with her friend, Tammy Peirce of New Boston, but has also met a lot of people along the way. Everyone has a story of why they are walking or who they are walking for, and for Whipple-Simard that makes the journey worthwhile.

“I look forward to the walk every year,” said Whipple-Simard.

Whipple-Simard said she has always been a walker and can be seen all over Francestown with her dog, Millie, and pushing her youngest child, Emily, in the stroller. In order to get ready for the annual breast cancer event, Whipple-Simard walks at least four days a week with the longer jaunts on weekends. But she doesn’t come anywhere near the almost nine hours required to finish the marathon day as her longest training walks last about three hours.

For Whipple-Simard, this is her way of helping those fight the disease that took her mother way too soon.

“For every $125 I raise, that’s a mammogram for someone who couldn’t afford it,” said Whipple-Simard. “The fact that the money goes to people in New England, I like that.”

Boston is one of eight cities participating this year and will be the second walk of 2013, less than a month after Houston’s. It marks the 11th year of the Boston walk.

As of last week, Whipple-Simard stood just shy of $1,250 with a little over eight weeks left to reach $1,800. To donate to help Whipple-Simard reach her goal, visit her fundraising page at http://info.avonfoundation.org/goto/heatherwhipplesimard.

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