A Winnipeg woman is determined to continue raising awareness for an incurable cancer after her mom was diagnosed three years ago.

In 2018, Maria Marinelli’s mother, Carol Porco, learned she had multiple myeloma — a common although relatively unknown type of blood cancer — after being misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis fives years earlier.

Learning about her mother’s diagnosis was a frightening experience, Marinelli told Global News on Sunday, partly because they’d never heard of the cancer before, despite the disease affecting nine new Canadians every day.

An estimated 3,400 Canadians were diagnosed with the disease in 2020, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Marinelli channeled her devastation into using her professional skills as an event planner, and now, this is Marinelli’s second year organizing Winnipeg’s 11th annual Multiple Myeloma March. As team captain, she led her mother and their family in a march around the Transcona neighbourhood on Sunday.

About a couple dozen team members, donning grey T-shirts reading “Carol’s Crusaders” walked from Madeline Street to Regent Ave., then Day Street onto Kildare Ave., joining 32 other communities across the country participating in the non-profit Myeloma Canada’s 13th annual fundraiser.

“The walk is so important for the community. (It) gives patients that extra support system,” Marinelli said. “We learned very quickly the treatment options were paramount in giving patients the gift of time, so getting involved with the walk was just our way to give back and help raise funds and awareness.”

The fundraiser collects money for alternate treatments and research, she said, so that when patients go into remission, they have other treatment options available to them.

Carol’s Crusaders are hoping to raise $5,000, adding to Winnipeg’s overall goal of $50,000 and Canada’s goal of $600,000. So far, local teams have raised a combined total of more than $25,000.

On the charity’s website, Myeloma Canada says there are no cures for the disease. However, advances in research and treatment are extending and improving the lives of those affected.

After Porco’s diagnosis, she underwent chemotherapy along with a stem cell transplant, which was successful. Porco, a mother of four and step-mother to five, now visits her doctor every two to three months.

“We’re extremely lucky that my mother responded well to her stem cell transplant,” Marinelli said in a news release on Wednesday. “But we’re all deeply aware that she’s still living on borrowed time and that there’s still no cure for her.”

“This is why raising awareness and funds to find a cure is so important.”

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