PIKEVILLE — The 143 breast cancer and ovarian cancer survivors, including two local women, who will walk in the Survivors Parade on Kentucky Oaks Day, were announced last week by Churchill Downs and its charitable partner, the Breast Health Program at Norton Cancer Institute.
The day before the Kentucky Derby, the ninth-annual parade will take place on Churchill Downs historic racetrack on Friday, May 5.
The public nominated and selected this year’s participants through an online process.
Heather Gearheart of Harold and Holly Davis of Paintsville are two individuals that were chosen to walk in the Survivors Parade and live in the Medical Leader’s circulation area.
Gearheart was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2016. She had 25 radiation treatments and a double mastectomy.
“I finished all of my treatments in November 2016 and I’m currently in remission. Praise be to God!” she said.
Davis was also diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2009, while pregnant with her third child.
The parade brings individuals together to celebrate hope and raise funds to support and provide care for survivors in the community and across the nation.
The Kentucky Oaks is America’s premiere race for three-year-old fillies, creating a natural tie to celebrating female strength and spirit. The parade also provides outreach and drives national breast and ovarian cancer awareness.
“I love the horse races, we go to the oaks and derby every year,” Gearheart said. “Last year, we couldn’t go because I was on chemo treatments. I asked it be God’s will to go to the next derby and walk with other survivors.”
Gearheart was nominated by her husband. She came out in first place with almost 8,300 votes.
“I am so blessed to have such a great family, friends and community. I am humbled, thankful and blessed,” she added.
The parade has been one of the highlights of the Kentucky Derby weekend for the past nine years.
“Being with other survivors on the track who know exactly what you’ve been through and celebrating such a journey is heartwarming,” Davis said. “Looking up at all the people cheering for you that you beat something that was trying to kill you is overwhelming and awesome all at the same time.”
Both survivors have lots of advice for individuals battling cancer.
“Pray hard then pray harder. There will be down days but you get up. Get dressed and cleaned up. Get out,” Gearheart added. “Feel blessed it was found and you are blessed to fight back. Push and then push harder. Praise God in the good, the bad and know he has a plan for the good of all those that love him.”
She said having God in her life has been a blessing.
“I went through all of this for a reason that I may never know but, I believe was for the good of many, including myself and my family,” she added.
Davis encouraged others to “hold tight to God.”
“Keep your faith and keep a positive attitude. It’s a speed bump in the road of life, but you will come out stronger because of it,” she concluded.
Churchill Downs has donated more than $820,000 to breast cancer organizations through this celebration.