Kristin Mann had just landed a new job, and an excellent professional opportunity. Also, a milestone birthday was approaching. Everything was looking up.

Then everything changed.

She was blindsided by the diagnosis.

“It was a month before my 40th birthday, and I learned I had cancer,” Mann said. “I knew I had to start treatment, but I had just started with my team. Being new, I had other concerns – like (losing) vacation time.”

While friends and family rallied to support Mann during treatment, so did her banking coworkers – some of whom donated their vacation time to make sure she didn’t miss a paycheck.

The cancer survivor, who now works as a Regions Relationship Manager, also discovered another ally: the American Cancer Society.

“It all happens really fast,” she said, “and there’s not a lot of time to think about it. This is it – it’s time to go. But what I also learned is that it’s hard on family members who suffer with you and often are just as frustrated, but internalize everything because they don’t want the person who’s sick to worry. The American Cancer Society offers help for the family, as well as treatment and lodging. They even offer free wigs, something that’s really appreciated.”

On a recent sunny day in Jacksonville, Florida, Mann and thousands of others gathered to participate in the Making Strides Against Cancer Walk.

Participants come from near and far to support family, friends and co-workers impacted by cancer./GARY TRAMONTINA PHOTOS

“The money that we raise for the American Cancer Society will go to help raise awareness, help with early detection, prevention, research. So everything that we do is pointing us in a direction that one day we can eradicate this disease,” said Franklin Danley, head of Strategic Execution and Business Transformation for Regions Bank.

Danley addressed the crowd, thanking them for participation. He first participated in the Real Men Wear Pink campaign, and realized he wanted to do more.

“I learned that one out of every eight women will receive that diagnosis at some point in their lives,” he added. “Being a husband and a father of three daughters, I couldn’t think of a better cause to get behind.”

Like Kristin Mann, Kellie Ann Kelleher is a survivor who now gives back. In Kelleher’s case, it’s as the Major Gifts Campaign Director for the American Cancer Society.

“When you are diagnosed, one of the first thoughts you have is, ‘Am I going to die?’ The American Cancer Society is here to take that thought away because we are here to make sure that you don’t,” Kelleher said. ““We’ll do whatever we can to help guide you through the process and find your life-saving treatment.”

A couple things set the Making Strides Against Cancer apart from other volunteer efforts. First, the size.

“Last year, we had about 10,000 (volunteers) walk, and only about 2,000 were (pre-) registered,” Mann said. “And it’s a free walk. I know a lot of 5Ks that cost money to participate. This costs nothing but time.”

Participants are free to make donations. But the main goal is to spread the word.

“The importance of the walk is very easy: Breast cancer impacts us all – both men and women,” said Mel Toran, Southeast Region Executive Director of the American Cancer Society. “In fact, 1 percent of the incidence rate in breast cancer is for males. Folks don’t believe that. We’ll have folks that have raised money – and lots of money – to fund breast cancer-related programs and research.”

Alicia Somers, Financial Wellness Relationship Manager for Regions, participates with dozens of coworkers for one reason: To make a difference.

“The impact we make by our participation in the walk, but also the participation that we have with our clients that may be affected by cancer, is critical to the health of our community,” Somers said. “When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, they need to know they have a partner.”

Mann learned the lesson a few years ago. The diagnosis itself can be overwhelming. On top of that, many people face unexpected financial difficulties.

“It’s crucial to understand what your benefits are and how much out of pocket you can expect to pay,” she said. “Ask your HR department for help, if you can’t figure it out, and keep asking until you are comfortable so that you understand what help is available.”

Regions associates and their families spend a the day competing as a team to raise awareness.

Mann’s advice to someone impacted by a diagnosis: Find out if your insurance company assigns you a case manager to walk you through the ramifications. And, by all means, explore the free resources offered by the American Cancer Society, which include a 24-hour hotline, travel to and from treatment, lodging, wigs and more.

Kelleher’s task, meanwhile, is to keep the American Cancer Society’s work at the forefront.

That’s important, because the bulk of the work is accomplished by volunteers and through relationships with companies that understand the value to the community.

In Jacksonville, Regions Bank is one of the business leaders supporting the event.

“As a corporate partner, Regions is incredible because it goes beyond the checks that corporations can write,” Kelleher said. “We need employees getting engaged and being given the opportunity to come out and volunteer. The American Cancer Society is a volunteer organization — there are more volunteers than there are employees.”