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LOCKPORT – Rebecca and Jack Florio of Lockport, who since the 1990s have been organizing a fundraising walk along the Erie Canal to aid breast cancer patients, are seeking business sponsors for this year’s event.

The 18th annual Mother’s Day Breast Cancer Canal Walk, set for May 11, primarily benefits Mary’s Wig Room, a space at the local American Cancer Society office in Amherst that offers free hairpieces to women whose hair has fallen out as a result of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

The walk “has become a tradition in Lockport,” Jack Florio said.

The wig room is named for Rebecca Florio’s sister, Mary F. Marvin, who founded the annual walk in 1996, two years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in 1998.

“She made it her mission to help people who were diagnosed with cancer,” said JoAnna Jacob, senior representative for community involvement at the Amherst office of the cancer society.

Jacob noted that Marvin was a cancer society employee.

Jacob said 313 wigs were given out last year to women in Western New York who had lost their hair because of cancer treatment.

It’s a subdivision of the cancer society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” program, which includes free appointments with trained volunteer cosmetologists to help female patients deal with the impact of physical side effects of cancer treatment, including the loss of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes.

Mary’s Wig Room has about 400 wigs in stock, Jacob said. The inventory includes 36 styles, each in a variety of hair colors.

“We have a couple that kind of fly off the shelves,” she said. “We have everything from short gray wigs to long blonde wigs.”

The most popular seems to be an above-the-neck style with a brown-and-blonde highlighted look.

Jack Florio said the free wigs are a big help to women, because health insurance doesn’t cover them.

The Mother’s Day Walk has been steadily growing since its inception, Rebecca Florio said. “It went up a good $5,000 to $10,000 every year.”

It had reached the $50,000-a-year plateau, but last year bad weather held the crowd down and reduced the proceeds to about $35,000.

“On Mother’s Day we had all four seasons,” Jack said.

The Florios said they thought there were about 400 walkers despite the weather, down from the usual turnout of 700.

“We usually run out of shirts,” Rebecca said, referring to the souvenir T-shirts offered at the walk.

The Florios, who own Micro Graphics, a downtown Lockport business, said major sponsors need to line up by March 1 so their names can be printed on the T-shirts.

“We’re slightly flexible, but we have to get the art work ready for the shirts and print up 700 of them,” Rebecca said, “We like to give ourselves a little bit of time.”

In addition to the shirts, the walkers receive pink knapsacks supplied by State Sen. George D. Maziarz and filled with various goodies from participating businesses.

Walkers are expected to contribute at least $25, either from people sponsoring their walk or by writing a check of their own.

Wigs are “not cheap,” Jack Florio said. “They have to be made of a certain material or fiber so it doesn’t affect the person going through chemo.”

Jacob said the Wig Room is willing to accept donated wigs, but it has specialists that will check them to make sure they aren’t dangerous to people with weakened immune systems.

This year’s walk will be held in memory of Gloria Potts of Lockport, who died of breast cancer seven years ago. Also honored will be Debbie Nodine of Lockport, who has survived the disease for seven years.

Dr. James Shaw, a Lockport dentist, will be the master of ceremonies.

Prospective sponsors may call the Florios at Micro Graphics at 434-9123.

Walkers’ registration on Mother’s Day starts at 11 a.m., with the walk stepping off at 1 p.m.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com