Dressed in white, Kay Kelly joined about 150 people at Hopkins Plaza yesterday for a Mother's Day rally aimed at raising public awareness about breast cancer.
Perhaps a quarter of the people there wore white, too, dramatizing that they weren't just talking about breast cancer: they lived it.
It's been a harrowing year for Mrs. Kelly, and one with hope, too.
At 49, the Annapolis woman was diagnosed with breast cancer after she felt a small lump that had unexpectedly appeared during the 14 months since her last mammogram. Since her discovery, she has endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, watched her hair fall out and grow back, felt her health slip away and then return.
And she opened a shop in Annapolis where cancer patients can buy wigs, turbans and breast prostheses from someone who knows their ordeal.
The idea came to her when she was browsing in a busy wig store and a shop attendant asked her in a shrill voice: "Are you chemo?"
Yesterday, after the rally, Mrs. Kelly responded with humor when asked how she felt these days.
"New hair," she said, tugging at a thick crop that was really hers. "It's brand new."
On a more serious note, Mrs. Kelly said she attended the rally to show solidarity with other women who were experiencing the ordeal of breast cancer, and to join the call for more research into the killer disease.
"I'm here for my daughter, too, so hopefully they'll find something so she doesn't get it," she said of Karen, 27, who is also her business partner.
The rally was organized by the Breast Cancer Coalition, a national advocacy group; Arm-in-Arm, a local support group; and the University of Maryland Cancer Center. The intent was to encourage women to detect cancer early by getting mammograms and practicing self-examination, and to draw support for a sharp increase in the amount of federal funding that goes to breast cancer research.
Mother's Day was chosen because the disease afflicts family and friends, as well as the victim, rally organizers said.
"It's devastating," said Karen Kelly. "Your whole world changes. You go through life making plans . . . and then you're not sure if your mother's going to be there."
Speaker after speaker yesterday called attention to a campaign by women's groups to win congressional approval of $300 million in federal funding for breast cancer research, more than double this year's total. Two years ago, funding for breast cancer was $80 million.
"I'm not sure that $300 million is enough," said Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women. But she noted that past increases have come about only because women's organizations have clamored -- "begged" -- for more funding in the face of a male-dominated Congress that has shown more resistance than support.
"We need a little anger," she said.
Thirty years ago, one in 14 women were diagnosed as having breast cancer sometime in their lifetimes. Today, it's one in nine.
This year, 180,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, and 46,000 women will likely die from the disease.
Kay Dickersin, a breast cancer survivor who co-founded Arm-in-Arm, said only part of the increase can be attributed to better methods of detecting cancer.
"It really is on the increase," she said, adding that no one knows why.
For too long, women have been afraid to ask that more money be spent on research into women's health for fear they may be taking money away from other needy programs, Ms. Dickersin said.
Consider some of the ways tax dollars are spent, she said.
"Our tax dollars are certainly being used to subsidize tobacco growers, and to pay farmers not to grow food," she said.
Dr. Patricia Schmoke urged women to get mammograms and examine themselves manually -- ways to detect the disease early while there is still a good chance for a cure.
"As a busy mother and physician, I almost put off my mammogram," said Dr. Schmoke, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's wife, whose cancer was discovered by a mammogram two years ago. "Thank God I didn't put off my mammogram, and I'm here to talk to you today."