Rose Flynn stepped out of her Pilgrim Road home and onto the street, and she didn’t stop walking until 12 hours later.
She took a brief break, getting in a nap, and then hit the road again for another eight straight hours of walking.
In all, she racked up 46 miles in support of the fight against cancer.
“I continue to spread the word about fighting for those who cannot fight and those who will have a fight before them,” said Flynn, a nine-year breast cancer survivor who decided to do her own walk when the annual Haverhill Relay for Life event was canceled this spring due to COVID-19.
“Cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic,” she said.
Flynn said she was motivated to walk those 20 hours because she was raising money for cancer research and awareness. She has a passion for the cause because of her own fight to survive the disease.
Flynn’s walk was a personal marathon, as Relay for Life events to support the American Cancer Society have been canceled across the country due to the coronavirus crisis. Haverhill’s relay — an annual 24-hour-long walk by teams of people to raise money for the cause — took place virtually this year.
In place of a big overnight event that usually happens in the spring at Northern Essex Community College’s running track, this year’s “walk’’ featured 18 teams raising money through personal donations or virtual team fundraisers such as online trivia.
But Flynn, who puts together a relay team called Rosie’s Riveters each year, was determine to do more than that.
She said assembling a relay team is her way of giving back to the Cancer Society for “being there for me when it was grim.” In the past eight years, she raised more than $120,000 in total and was not going to let the opportunity to bring in more money go by this year.
And she would do it by walking — relay or no relay.
“I decided I was not going to let this pandemic get me down and crush my spirit or my passion,” she said.
Flynn assembled a team of about 20 people, including her husband, James Flynn, and their 22-year-old daughter, Jessica. Several neighbors also participated in the walk. It kicked off at noon on Friday, June 12, in front of the Flynn home and continued throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
Team members joined in at different times and walked with Flynn for as long as they could, while maintaining social distancing. With their encouragement, she kept going for the 20 hours.
“Normally we all stay in tents at Northern Essex,’’ Flynn said of the relay event that features at least one member of each team walking on the NECC track while other members rest, allowing them to collectively walk for 24 straight hours. “But this time I could not have my team with me for the entire 24 hours and it was heartbreaking.’’
Still, she said, “I’m thankful for all the people who love me and care and were there to support me during my walk.”
Thanks to people pledging money toward her walk, Flynn raised $4,000. Her annual Move for the Movement dance exposition held in January at the Collins Center in Andover raised $19,000. So in all this year, she has boosted the Cancer Society effort by $23,000.
The luminaria ceremony that is part of the annual relay event at NECC wasn’t forgotten. Flynn lined her front walkway with electric candles in paper bags, each decorated with the names of cancer survivors and people who died from the disease. It was similar to the ceremony that happens at NECC.
With the official relay canceled, other local participants in the cancer fight did their part to support the cause and conduct a virtual Relay for Life.
“We put together a compilation of photographs and videos, including an opening ceremony filmed in the backyard of our chairperson, Lilia Credit,” said Lee Boles of Haverhill, the event’s survivor chairperson and a cancer survivor. “The mayor was kind enough to provide us with a great video message.”
Photos and videos premiered Friday, June 12, at 6 p.m. on the event’s Facebook page, facebook.com/HaverhillRelay.
“People can watch these videos at any time and donations are still being accepted,” Boles said. “With so many relay events being canceled across the country, fundraising is expected to be half of what it usually is.”
Theresa Freeman, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, echoed those thoughts and encouraged people to make donations.
“Because of the pandemic, we’ve had to suspend all live events across the country through the end of June,” Freeman said.
Last year’s Relay for Life Haverhill raised $113,772, according to Freeman. This year’s virtual event has raised less than half that amount so far, a little over $43,000 as of June 18, with additional donations still coming in.
The disease continues to take a staggering toll, with more than 500,000 children and adults expected to die from cancer this year, according to the Cancer Society.
“We need support now more than ever,” Freeman said.
You can donate to this year’s Haverhill Relay for Life by visiting relayforlife.org/haverhillma.