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 NEWBERRY‒ On March 26, 2022, the Fight Ovarian Cancer 5k Walk made its Newberry debut.  But the walk’s genesis goes back for years.  Samantha Bacchus was a successful pediatrician in Pennsylvania when her world was turned upside down. For a number of months, she had been having odd physical symptoms she couldn't explain. The symptoms would come and go. They included itchy skin, nausea, intermittent menstrual cycles, back and pelvic pain and extreme fatigue. Being a physician, bacchus did self-diagnosis but could not figure out what was wrong as the symptoms continued more frequently. In june 2014 she wound up in the emergency room. After extensive tests she was told she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. “i was stunned. Of all the things i had thought of, i never thought of cancer. There is no screening test for ovarian cancer and it is usually diagnosed late in stage 3 or 4, so the survival rate is only one out of three. My whole world suddenly changed,” Bacchus said.

 Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and belly. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat and is often fatal. Later stages are associated with symptoms, but they can be non-specific. At this late stage, surgery and chemotherapy are generally the only options. Even with treatment the cancer often comes back and the average life span of those who can be treated is around five years.

Bacchus had surgery and five rounds of chemotherapy but developed vertigo as a side effect of the treatment. In November 2014 she felt well enough to return to work and was diagnosed as being in remission. However, by February 2016 she again had symptoms including frequent vomiting and extreme fatigue. The cancer had returned and Bacchus endured more surgery and six more rounds of chemotherapy before she was diagnosed as being in remission again. So far, the cancer has not returned.

Her close brush with mortality gave Bacchus a new direction in life. She closed her practice and focused on what to do that was both enjoyable and beneficial to others. She moved to Florida to be with husband, Willam Hensler, a successful contractor whose work often brought him to Florida. They were initially planning to stay a few years, but found they loved living in North Central Florida and eventually bought a large piece of property near Newberry called Prancing Horse Farm.  Bacchus hoped to turn it into a bed and breakfast and build an event center for charity organizations to hold events.

She also became an active advocate for funding and research on ovarian cancer.  Bacchus connected to the Sandy Rollman foundation, a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization created as a tribute to the life of Sandy Rollman who passed away from advanced ovarian cancer in May 2000. Rollman’s sister, Adriana Way, and her nurse, Robin Cohen, vowed to keep Sandy’s memory alive while trying to prevent other women from having to endure the same pain as she did. In 2016 the Foundation created the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance and received funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Department of Defense. As a fundraising and awareness event they also hosted the “Sandy Sprint” which is a 5K walk.  While it started in Philadelphia 18 years ago, the event has spread to other cities.

Bacchus knew her property in Florida would be ideal to hold the Sandy Sprint. Working with the Foundation she received support from the City of Newberry and police traffic control from the Alachua County Sherriff’s Office. On March 26, it was more than just a walk, as Bacchus had food and drinks donated to the event including a Duncan Donuts sponsorship. She had a raffle with donated gift baskets, a DJ providing musical entertainment and a Lamborghini on display at the starting point of the walk.

Bacchus also garnered support of her professional equestrian neighbors at Sunrise Farms Sport Horses. Owner and trainer Shelley Van den Neste has had a successful show career with numerous national and regional championship wins, including as a USDF Gold Medalist. She offered to put on an exhibit, along with daughter Hanna Lisec at the end of the 5K walk.

One special guest at the event was a small women dressed in the teal colors that represent the fight against Ovarian cancer.  Donna Dollinger’s condition may be described as frail, but her spirit to live is not. On April Fool’s Day in 2011, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer but has refused to let it beat her. Over the years she has endured several surgeries and 13 different chemotherapy treatments. Dollinger is not in remission and the cancer is still in her body. “I will keep fighting against this disease,” Dollinger said.  “I don’t get out much and often fatigued, but felt I needed to come and support this.”

Many others felt it was important as well. “Over 110 people participated in the walk and we raised over $20,000 for the foundation,” Bacchus said. “I plan to hold it every year at the farm to help fight this deadly disease.”

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