By Bethany Bray
SALEM — Lisa Cavallaro has walked more than 100 miles in the fight against cancer, participating in the North Shore Cancer Walk since its inception in 1991.
This year, as Cavallaro steps off Sunday with thousands of other walkers, the cause is much more personal. Cavallaro and her brother Robert were both diagnosed with cancer in the past year.
She will walk as much of the 6.2-mile route through Salem as she is able, and a team of her friends and family will walk in her honor.
"I have to have hope," said Cavallaro, a registered nurse and manager of The Birthplace at North Shore Medical Center. "You have to not give up, you have to have hope. I don't talk about my prognosis. I talk about getting up every day and putting one foot forward."
Since her diagnosis, Cavallaro has not missed a single day of work. She will be undergoing treatment for melanoma through March.
A Salem native, Cavallaro went to Salem State University and has worked at only one place — Salem Hospital, now part of North Shore Medical Center — for 31 years.
When she saw a flier for the first North Shore Cancer Walk 20 years ago, she signed up simply because it was a good cause, she said. She didn't know anyone with cancer personally.
She strapped her then-1-year-old daughter, Molly, in a baby carrier and walked the route with her husband, Rick.
Crossing the finish line gave her "the most amazing feeling in the world," she said.
"The first time I walked over finish line, I just sobbed and said, 'It feels so good to do this.' I always knew I was helping someone, somewhere," she said. "Now, it has come full circle. ... I became one of the people that I was walking for all those years."
In 20 years, Cavallaro has raised more than $40,000 through the walk for cancer services and programs on the North Shore. Her two children, Molly, 22, and Peter, 19, grew up riding in wagons on the walk, and now walk it themselves.
This year, Molly has organized a walk team, dubbed "Live Strong for Lisa." They hope to raise more than $6,000.
Molly ordered 300 team bracelets, which have made their way to donors in 13 states.
On Sunday, the route starts and ends at Salem Willows Park; walkers head out at 8 a.m., and runners start at 11 a.m.
The thousands of participants will be able to stop at entertainment and refreshment breaks along the 6.2-mile route. The run is sponsored by Salem's Wicked Running Club.
Since 1991, the North Shore Cancer Walk has raised more than $16 million. This year, all proceeds will support cancer services and programs at the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers and help fund renovations to the inpatient cancer floor at Salem Hospital.
With cancer patients, their families and cancer center staff participating, the day of the walk is "a sad day, but also a happy day," Cavallaro said.
She stepped into North Shore Medical Center's cancer center for the first time with her brother last fall.
Two things struck her, she said: the fact that people of all ages were there, being treated for cancer, and the attentiveness of the staff.
From the greeters at the door to the oncologists, she said, "it's like they were handpicked to do what they do."
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SNewsBethany.