Racing together in spirit

Cancer: When Clementine Carr walks in the Race for the Cure Saturday, she knows her sister will be there every step of the way.

October 11, 2001|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

Clementine Carr never imagined so many thousands and thousands of people would turn out for a race to support breast cancer research. She and Celeste, her twin sister, marveled at the crowds of runners swarming the Inner Harbor. It was a cold, rainy day in October 1998, an inauspicious beginning for the annual Susan G. Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure, but the sisters didn't mind.

"We saw all those people with signs on their back that said they were running for somebody - either in memoriam or in celebration," Clementine recalls. "It was just so poignant, so meaningful to us."

Celeste couldn't wait to begin her walk, even though her sister couldn't accompany her. Ironically, Clementine was the one on the sidelines that day, recovering from cosmetic surgery she had had the day before. But as always, Celeste could feel her support.

It was a time of hope for the 52-year-old Carr twins: Celeste believed she was free of the breast cancer diagnosed in 1997. In solidarity with her sister, Clem had just had breast-reduction surgery so that the twins could continue to look identical after Celeste's radical mastectomy and reconstruction. They were enjoying careers in education, traveling often to New York for theater, vacationing in Europe, living in their "dream house" in Catonsville.

The twins believed they could get through this crisis together.

This Saturday, Clem will walk in the Race for the Cure in memory of Celeste, who died in January. She will lead a crowd of dozens of family members, friends, colleagues and volunteers from Johns Hopkins Hospital where Celeste was treated, and where she helped other women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Celeste Carr has been designated the 2001 Spirit Runner for Hopkins' Race for the Cure team, about 1,000 strong. Many race participants will wear a photo of her smiling face on the back of their shirts as they run or walk to raise money for breast cancer research and treatment.

"She would be amazed," says Clem. "She would say, `Why are all these people being so nice to me?' That's what she always said ... Celeste would just be so proud."

As always, she can sense her support.

Even relatives had a hard time telling Clem and Celeste Carr apart. Almost universally referred to as the Carr Twins, they moved through life as a team. Raised in North Englewood in Prince George's County, the sisters enrolled at Morgan State University. There, Celeste pursued her love of French while Clem majored in history. They roomed together and dressed alike until they graduated and began teaching in city schools.

For a while, Celeste taught French on the east side of Baltimore while Clem taught social studies on the west. But there was a six-year stretch - from 1983 to 1989 - when they taught at City College and reveled in confusing the faculty and students. Eventually they became school administrators. Celeste supervised the instruction of foreign languages and English as a Second Language in Howard County schools. Clem became interim supervisor of social studies instruction for Baltimore City.

By that time, Celeste had received her doctorate from Morgan. And the twins had traveled together 25 times to Europe, often leading student trips.

Celeste was a Francophile through and through, Clem says. She loved the flow of the language, "how you could talk about garbage and still make it sound beautiful." Paris was her favorite city. Celeste would swell with pride whenever a Parisian asked if she was from one of the French-speaking African nations. At home, she often slipped French phrases into her conversation or recited her favorite quotation, a wry remark by playwright Eugene Labiche which translates into "An egotist is somebody who doesn't think about me."

The twins were 51 when Celeste discovered a large lump in her breast, a lump she couldn't ignore. Even though Clem had urged her many times, Celeste had never had a screening mammogram; she didn't want the doctor to weigh her, she said. She preferred to assume that she and her twin were exactly alike. The fact that Clem's mammograms were clear was good enough for her, Celeste had argued.

After her mastectomy, however, she became a fervent advocate of regular breast cancer screening, often speaking at community health programs about the importance of breast self-examination and mammograms. She also became an important member of the breast cancer survivors volunteer group at Johns Hopkins Breast Center, helping many newly diagnosed African-American women, including the late Bea Gaddy. She took particular pride in comforting a French woman who spoke little English, recalls Lillie Shockney, director of education and outreach at the Breast Center.

Meanwhile, she continued to battle for her own health. A hysterectomy followed her mastectomy. And in 1999, she discovered her cancer had spread beyond her doctors' powers to suppress.

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