Breast cancer gets personal for The Winston School in Del Mar with survivor and teacher leading Walk-a-Thon

Linda Castile with her daughter Alice Barr (on left). Courtesy photo
Linda Castile with her daughter Alice Barr (on left). Courtesy photo

By Karin Olsen

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and students at The Winston School in Del Mar are taking a stand to help find a cure.  While it’s a national commemoration, the topic is personal for them.

In 2007, veteran Winston School teacher Linda Castile was diagnosed with breast cancer and this summer the assistant head of school Mary Sterling-Torretti announced she is battling the disease.

Cancer-free for six years, Castile is helping raise money and awareness by leading the Winston students in the school’s annual Breast Cancer Walk-a-Thon on Oct. 4. The school event this year not only kicks off Spirit Month but has also become a rally for the beloved Sterling-Torretti.

News of Sterling-Torretti’s diagnosis has personalized the illness for the students and Castile said she expects this will prompt an even larger turnout.  “We generally have about two-thirds of the kids participating but expect even more this year because they know about Mary’s situation.  We are hoping for 80 – 90 percent.”

Castile said the walk not only raises money, but provides an opportunity to teach about tenacity and a positive attitude.  “Mary has had a round of chemo and she’ll have another in three weeks but she’s back at school and doing very well.  She will be there to cheer us on.  It’s important that the kids see that a cancer diagnosis is manageable for the huge majority of us. I want the girls, in particular, to realize that it’s not ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die’ but rather it’s something you have to work at and overcome just as I did and Mary is doing.”

The walk is from 9 - 10 a.m. at the school and the students get credit for each lap around the field with seven laps equaling a mile.  Castile said former students Paul Vierson and Dylan Weiss hold the record of 53 laps in one hour and this year they are expecting great things from 12th grade high-speed participant Brian Strobel.

She said graduate Desiree Seng holds the record for raising the most money.

“Fundraising is down since Desiree graduated.  She was a go-getter.  She had friends and relatives all over the country and Canada who supported her.  Over the six years she was here she raised close to $5,000.”

Castile said Seng, who now attends Cal State San Marcos, was an honorary development director and the school is anticipating that someone will step up and assume that role again.

Building on the awareness and fundraising opportunities for the school, Castile and headmaster Mike Peterson are meeting with a representative for “Making Strides,” the American Cancer Society’s walk for Breast Cancer awareness.  They are hoping to organize a team of Winston students and families to participate on Oct. 20 to further show their support for Sterling-Torretti and the cause.

Castile is no stranger to cancer awareness walks.  She started participating in the 3-Day Breast Cancer walks, first organized by Avon, now by the Susan G. Komen organization, as well as “Race for a Cure” 12 years ago and she hasn’t missed it since — even the year she was fighting the disease.

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