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A head start to talk about cancer

That encouraged her to raise her fundraising goal.

“I thought, ‘I may shoot for the moon, and I’ll say ... two thousand dollars,’” Jones remembered.

Then Jones’ team raised $2,000. So they increased their fundraising goal to $5,000.

As of press time, Jones and her team have raised $8,000. Their current fundraising goal is $20,000.

The Strides walk is Sunday, Oct. 13, at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street in South Burlington.

This will be the 13th annual Strides walk, which the American Cancer Society organizes to raise breast cancer awareness.

Participants can run or walk a 5K lap. They can also walk one mile, or do yoga.

Jones said organizers try to design an inclusive event, based on the knowledge that anyone grappling with cancer has a different reaction to treatment.

Jones herself is now undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Doctors diagnosed her in late July after a routine mammogram discovered a 1.88-millimeter tumor on the backside of her breast, in a place close to her chest wall a self-examination would not find.

Jones said her doctor compared the discovery to a lightning strike. Jones is a generally healthy 47-year-old without a family history of breast cancer. On top of that, her own cancer is aggressive. She couldn’t afford another year without discovering it.

“I’m a very fortunate person,” Jones said.

After doctors discovered the tumor, Jones was able to swiftly undergo the necessary surgery and begin treatment.

“A lot of people, when they get that diagnosis ... it’s hard to get,” Jones said.

But after the shock wore off, Jones remembered thinking, “Hey, I’m a lucky one. It’s not that bad. It’s a definite death sentence.”

Jones works for the University of Vermont Health Network. As a former oncology nurse, her cancer diagnosis spurred memories of cancer treatments that Jones said led her to expect the worse.

But she said it really isn’t, despite “a couple bad days” here and there. She’s had to modify certain behaviors, for example taking to working at home, but Jones said she’s still working full-time and still exercising.

She’s also trying to convey that a cancer diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, that talking about it with those dealing with cancer does more good than not.

And Jones is using her head to get that message out — literally.

She’s taken to painting her shaved head with eye-catching art, hoping it invites conversation in a way that an artless shaved head might not.

“If you see someone bald, especially a woman, [people] avert their eyes and don’t want to talk about it,” Jones said. “But when I paint my head and I go out and people look at me ... they ask questions.”

Jones remembered a recent trip to Costco. She was washing her hands when a woman entered the restroom and told Jones she liked her head art.

Jones explained the art, and shared her diagnosis — and she said that started a conversation that otherwise would not have happened.

People “have a positive reaction,” Jones said.

Jones uses non-toxic paint, like a body paint, and a spray to help it last for days.

“I love doing it,” she said.

It’s a colorful outreach strategy from a self-proclaimed optimist.

“I’d rather find the positive in things,” Jones said. “I’m super grateful that I got diagnosed.”

As for whether she’ll be showing off her head art at Sunday’s Strides event, Jones said that’s weather-dependent.

She said volunteering isn’t new for her. “I’ve always been one to give back as much as I can,” she said. “If I can make a difference for someone else, that’s the biggest thing for me.”

And Jones stressed the difference the ACS makes for cancer patients, from rides to treatment to necessary lodging.

Jones said she hopes anyone with cancer experience, be it firsthand as one afflicted or as a caregiver, spouse, child, etc., understands the benefit of the Strides event. It’s not about walking.

“You can meet other people who are like you,” Jones said.

You can also watch a “Trash Cancer Truck Pull” beginning at 10:30 a.m., take goofy photos in a Digital DJ booth from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., have Little Artsey Faces’ skilled artists paint your face from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., or even play cornhole.

Fundraising isn’t a requirement to participate in the run or walk, either, according to the ACS.

For more information on the event, contact Erin Regan at 872-6344.

To donate to or join Jones’ team, visit bit.ly/2mgCLGH.