EDINBURG - At the crack of dawn the Hidalgo County Courthouse parking lot was filled with more than 1,200 people waiting to participate in the 8th annual “Love Your Cha Chas” breast cancer awareness 5k.

JoAnne Perez first organized the walk eight years ago at Doolitte Park to help pay for her admission to the Susan G. Komen 60-mile 3-day walk while her sister was fighting breast cancer.

A year before, her mother had passed away from breast cancer after battling it for four years. Before she attended the walk, her sister also passed after fighting the cancer for seven years. From then on, and after meeting people who had been through similar experiences, she decided to continue organizing the 5k annually.

“When you lose your best friend, you feel like you have to do something for them,” Perez said. “Doing this is the only way I could find peace--doing it for them,”

The first year, there were only 120 participants. This year, she needed to cap registration at 1,200 and still accepted walk-ins that morning.

Perez said the biggest message she wants to get through at this event is that early detection is best way to fight cancer.

“I’m not waiting for a cure--early detection really does save lives,” she said.

Perez feels Hispanic women are not always open to talking about topics like breast cancer. She feels it is important to talk about receiving annual mammograms.

The same rings true for Kristie Lumbreras, who attended the walk in support of her best friend DeeDee, an Edinburg native who battled an aggressive form of breast cancer from 2006 to 2011.

“We were told that her cancer wasn’t curable it was just treatable, so she fought as long as she could,” she said. “Early detection is key. If you detect it, fight it aggressively, because you never know how bad it can get.”

Dalia Barrera, a breast cancer survivor, said the only reason she is here to tell the story is because she caught her cancer early on.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, underwent radiation therapy and had the tumor removed later that year. In 2016 she was pronounced cancer-free.

“I feel blessed, and I thank god that it was detected early,” she said. “You always think it’s not going to be you, but it can happen.”

At the walk, she had dozens of supporters wearing “Team Dalia” T-shirts, while her husband and four sons sported matching pink ribbon tattoos in her honor.