Healing and bringing awareness brings Kelly Tallant’s journey to light

More than 1,077 training miles logged, more than $12,000 raised and flaming pink flamingos may not seem like much, but for Kelly Tallant it goes a long way to honor her mother and for breast cancer research.

She is one out of more than 2,000 walkers that walked in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Santa Barbara, Calif. last year and helped raise more than $4.7 million for breast cancer research and care. Tallant heard about the Avon Walk while she was fundraising for a heart walk from a donor who had participated in the walk. “I was thankful to find a great way to honor my mom,” she said.

Her mom, Judy Mahollan, died from complications of Inflammatory Breast Cancer “IBC”, but this type of breast cancer is the silent type that can usually not be detected by a mammogram.

According to the National Cancer Institute, “Inflammatory breast cancer progresses rapidly, often in a matter of weeks or months. Inflammatory breast cancer is either stage III or IV at diagnosis, depending on whether cancer cells have spread only to nearby lymph nodes or to other tissues as well.”

Mahollan was diagnosed at 60-years-old and had IBC for 18 months before she died in 2006. “When my mom was diagnosed she was much older than the normal age to be diagnosed with IBC which is usually women in their early 50s,” Tallant said. She said she has even seen women in their early 30s be diagnosed with IBC and often after they have their first child.

Tallant lives with her family in Nipomo, Calif. and is a wife and active stay-at-home mom for most of her kids’ lives, she is thankful for the opportunity to raise awesome kids. She loves anything outdoors from hiking, kayaking, the beach and hunting for sea glass. She used to love gardening, but not so much since her mother died.

Pink Flaming Flamingo t-shirt design. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tallant

Pink Flaming Flamingo t-shirt design. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tallant

She can be spotted on the walk route wearing her white shirt with a pink flaming flamingo on it that sparks conversation with walkers along the route. The reason she walks with a flamingo designed shirt is because her mom loved flamingos and when she used to go to Las Vegas to gamble she always had to stay at the Flamingo Hotel. “Another reason for the pink flaming flamingo is that I think it represents the kind of breast cancer my mom had, she had inflammatory breast cancer so I wanted to represent that with a pink flamingo with flames,” she said.

 

In 2010, four years after her mother’s death, she began her Avon Walk for Breast Cancer journey with her family by her side. Her husband Will and daughter Crislyn would join her along route as her cheering crowd and support. “I don’t know what I would do without them cheering for me at all the cheer locations and along the route…it is what keeps you going for those 39.3 miles,” she said.

Her family has raised more than $12,000 for the Avon Walk in the last three year. The first two years, she walked by herself and last year her husband and daughter participated in the walk with her. This year her daughter and her will be walking while her husband cheers them along the route.

Tallant participates in walking 39.3 miles in two days in Santa Barbara, Calif. in September. Avon Walk has nine city walks around the United States. Each walker is required to raise a minimum of $1,800.

Kelly and Will Tallant stop at mile maker to take a photo. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tallant

Kelly and Will Tallant stop at mile maker to take a photo. Photo courtesy of Kelly Tallant

Some walkers must fundraise year around to reach the minimum requirements. Tallant has made items to sell to help raise awareness of breast cancer and to fundraise for the walk. This will be her fourth Avon Walk and she is on a mission to complete the 39.3 miles walk this year. “I am hoping to walk every mile, but getting those blisters on your feet is the hardest part,” she said.

She says that the Avon Walk has become a part of her and who she is in every aspect of her life and cannot imagine not doing it. “As hard as the walking is and as hard and often frustrating and stress of fundraising is and high personal cost it is, I hope I will always be able to participate,” she said.

When reflecting about her mom she mentioned that her mom was the sweetest person on the planet and the only other person she knows who everyone likes and is just generally sweet and loving is her husband. “She was generous to a fault with a heart of gold. She loved Neil Diamond and hearing him during the walk is really hard. I still find it difficult to believe that she is gone, but I am trying to find peace in helping others who have and will be affected by cancer and maybe, just maybe help in the process of ending cancer forever,” she said.

What she likes most about walking is the family atmosphere and the wonderful people she has met along the way, many have become her very good friends along the journey.

She says what sounds silly is that her least favorite part about the walk is the actual walking part. “For the first few miles its good, but it gets pretty tough after that,” she said. Tallant suffers from chronic pain and it makes it complicated for her to walk long distances. “I don’t do it (walk) for the actual walking part, but for the money that is raised (for research and care), for the amazing relationships, to honor my mom and bring awareness to IBC by wearing a shirt that sparks conversation,” she said.

Tallant family at the finish line at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Santa Barbara 2012 Photo courtesy of Kelly Tallant

Tallant family at the finish line at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Santa Barbara 2012
Photo courtesy of Kelly Tallant

The Avon Walk has made a great impact in her life. She has walked more than 1,077 miles as she has prepared for the walks in the last three years. The training walks have provided her with time to think, pray and heal. Without the Avon Walk, she thinks that she would not be where she is in the healing process. “The first year (2010) was really hard emotionally, I didn’t even want to walk in year two, but I had already signed up. If I had not signed up at event eve for the next year, there probably would not have been a year two,” Tallant said.

For her, year two ended up bringing the most healing, even though the walk itself was harder, the emotional stuff was easier, what the first year stirred up, the second year skimmed off.

Though this year has only begun and training is underway, Tallant is thinking about next year, “It will be my fifth year walking and I want to do something to special, I think I will be doing two (cities) walks, Santa Barbara and San Francisco,” she said.

She is impacting others through doing the Avon Walk. “I did get my friend Martha to sign up for the walk. I met her just before my first walk at a blood bank function and she had also lost her mother to breast cancer. I didn’t find out until much later that she started training for the next walk that night. She walked with me my second year and we are now very good friends,” Tallant said.

The most important thing that she would like people to know about Inflammatory Breast Cancer is that it does exist. “It is absolutely frightening how many people have never heard of it, doctors included,” she said.

According to the National Cancer Institute, “Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and very aggressive disease in which cancer cells block lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. This type of breast cancer is called “inflammatory” because the breast often looks swollen and red, or “inflamed.”

Tallant says that people need to know that there are many types of breast cancer and the most deadly form does not have a lump and can appear overnight as a seemingly innocent mosquito bite or a rash. “Other symptoms are enlarged breast, sometimes twice the size or more, hardening of the breast, orange peel texture, itching, inverted nipple and pain in breast,” Tallant explained.

She has hopes for the people she talks with, “I hope I have brought more awareness to people and maybe to those who didn’t even realize they were paying attention. I also hope that I have encouraged people to get out and do something to help others and not to wait until you have a personal reason that pushes you out there,” she said.