Reagan Tierney is a high school senior with a big heart and a passion for giving back to her community. When she was only 12 years old, she began a small community project to give back to a very personal and important cause. The project has now grown over the past 6 years to rally hundreds in her community each year on Mother’s Day. Here is Reagan’s heartfelt story of how it all began.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know what cancer was. It took away my grandfather “Poppy” when I was four years old. I watched my Aunty Terri battle it away when I was eight. So when I was 12 years old and my parents sat me down to tell me my mom had breast cancer, my world was shattered.
I had thought of my mom as the glue in my family. She was the one keeping us all together with her unconditional support and love. My mom was the one that took care of me when I was sick by making me soup and handing me tissues. For the first time in my life, the roles were reversed. Only my mom’s sickness wasn’t the type that could be cured with soup and tissues.
Three months after my mom’s diagnosis, I was assigned a “take action” project in my seventh-grade science class at Orinda Intermediate School. The assignment was to identify an issue in the community and execute a project that would help solve the problem.
I couldn’t identify a single issue in my community other than breast cancer. Nothing else seemed important. My best friend Zoe Zabetian couldn’t agree more. She had stood by my side through everything that I had gone through. We automatically teamed up, seeing this project as a way to learn more and raise awareness for the very disease my mom was fighting.
From the very beginning, I was told that my mom was going to be okay. The doctors had detected her cancer in her annual mammogram. The cancer was in phase 0 and thankfully, it hadn’t spread. That’s why I was shocked to find out how many women do not have access to mammograms. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, only 65% of women over 40 years old in the U.S. have had a mammogram in the past two years.
The more I learned about breast cancer, the more passionate I became about the project. There was so much information and research online that Zoe and I knew people were not aware of, including the shocking fact that breast cancer risk can be reduced by lifestyle changes. Only a small number of breast cancer cases are caused by genetics, contrary to what we believed.
We wanted to something that could both raise money to make mammograms accessible to all women and educate people on the risk factors of breast cancer. Not many people know that our original idea was to host a charity concert in the park with Joe Jonas. We were thinking of an upscaled “Concert in the Park,” like the ones that the city of Orinda puts on in the summer. The only reason we decided not to was that we weren’t sure how we could make a concert educational, and we also wanted to promote exercise.
We realized that a community walk was a more realistic goal and a better way to rally the community together. We had both participated in Hayley’s Run for a Reason, a community Fourth of July fun run, and wanted to create something similar.
The Orinda city town council graciously met with us and gave us ideas on how we could make it a successful event. They granted us a permit to use a local trail, St Stephens drive and invited us to speak at city council meetings. Once the event was approved we did everything in our power to spread the word, including hanging up signs all over our town, posting the event on Instagram, and sending out an invite to all our friends.
I thought that the event was going to be a big deal, but I could never have imagined the support we received. So many friends, neighbors, and people I didn’t even know supported the event by participating or making donations. I truly felt empowered. I was a seventh-grade girl, and my best friend and I had just raised $4,000 on our own. We had rallied 150 people in our community to walk in solidarity against our cause.
One hour after we cleaned up the event, Zoe and I decided to make the walk an annual event. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Over the last 5 years, the walk has raised over $30,000. Planning Orinda’s Walk Against Breast Cancer has taught me so much. I learned how to communicate with adults, act professionally at meetings, and speak in front of large crowds. I have received many awards over the years as well. More important to me than the awards and life lessons, however, is how building this event made me feel inspired to fight for my Mom and all people suffering from Breast Cancer.
When 150 people showed up at St Stephen’s drive I realized that I had the power to bring real change to my community. I had the means to bring people together and rally them against an issue that has hurt so many families.