Elizabeth Crutchley estimates she has taken more than 126,000 steps, and used up a dozen tubes of Aspercreme, since her walk to raise money and spread awareness for breast cancer started last June.
Crutchley, an Eldersburg resident, started walking along Md. 26 every other day, dressed in wacky outfits and holding colorful signs, in support of niece Lindsey Cohen while she battled an aggressive form of breast cancer. Cohen lost that battle Feb. 9, three days shy of her 24th birthday.
Crutchley kept going, several days per week starting around 6:30 a.m. and walking for two or more hours, and last week met her goal of reaching 511 miles, the distance between where she and Cohen lived. Near the end, Cohen asked her to finish the walk and Crutchley promised she would.
Her walk is set to come to an end Saturday, April 10, around 10 a.m., on Liberty Road near the border of Baltimore and Carroll counties. Crutchley said she’ll be joined by fellow cancer survivors ― she has been cancer-free herself for more than a decade ― and some going through their fight right now, on her final journey.
“I’m still in the, ‘I can’t believe someone this young had cancer.’ That’s still running through my brain,” Crutchley said. “I want get to word out to everybody to get tested. I don’t want someone else to have to go through this, with a loss of their family member. ... It’s kind of like a bittersweet ending.”
Cohen started chemotherapy in Cincinnati, Ohio last May after being diagnosed with triple negative Stage 3 breast cancer almost one year ago. The coronavirus pandemic kept Crutchley from traveling to be with Cohen, a 2016 Atholton High School graduate, so she found a way to support her niece from afar.
Drivers honk and wave at Crutchley as she counts her steps along the road, and she’s always visible with her decorative clothing and signage. Cohen’s family set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $40,000 to help with medical costs, and the page collected more than $17,000.
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Crutchley, who took to calling herself “The Walking Fool,” said she didn’t mind poking fun at herself for a good cause. The community’s reaction is what took her aback, she said.
“I was floored with the support, the love, and getting the message out,” Crutchley said. “And people talking to other people about going to get testing. It amazed me how the message spider-webbed out to other people, and it got conversations going that needed to be heard. That to me ... that means so much more.
“I know Lindsey would be the one screaming at the top of her lungs for everybody to get tested.”
Cohen’s form of breast cancer is one that is negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein, according to breastcancer.org. About 10-20% of breast cancers are triple-negative cases. This type of cancer is more often diagnosed in people younger than 50.
Crutchley said getting to the 511-mile mark was emotional, and she expects more of the same when she finishes her walk this weekend. Her body has started to feel the effects of a nine-month walking routine, Crutchley said, but she’s proud that she kept her promise to her niece.
“I know I’m going to be a crying mess. But that’s what amazes me, is the community is reaching out ... it feels like they’re holding me up these last miles,” Crutchley said. “We’re in this together. It will be an accomplishment, I’ll be proud. But then, I’ll be heartbroken. It’s a weird mix of emotions.”