Thousands take strides toward a cure for cancer

12th annual race in Baltimore expected to raise $1 million for research, treatment, education

October 10, 2004|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Of the more than 20,000 men, women and children who participated in Maryland's 12th annual Race for the Cure - held yesterday morning on the streets north of Ravens stadium - few stopped to talk about their personal experiences with breast cancer.

Instead, they wore their stories pinned to their backs on bright pink signs inscribed with the names of victims and survivors while on either the one-mile or five-kilometer course.

"In Memory of Mom," read many of the signs.

"In Celebration of My Sister," read others.

"In Celebration of ALL Survivors," read the sign tacked to the pink T-shirt worn by Finksburg resident Lisa Kirschner, 45, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38.

Kirschner crossed the finish line with her neighbor, 43-year-old Allie Hayes, who also survived the disease, which afflicts more than 180,000 women and 1,000 men each year in the United States.

Wiping away tears, the two women embraced each other, then their cheering family members.

"We're out here to make a difference and help find a cure," Kirschner said. "We don't want our daughters to have to go through what we went through."

Mothers and daughters were not the only ones who turned out for the event, one of more than 100 nationwide races organized by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. There were fathers and sons. Aunts and nieces. High school classes and community groups.

Robin Prothro, executive director of the Maryland affiliate of the Susan G. Komen foundation, said the race - which is expected to raise more than $1 million for research, education and services for women with breast cancer - drew about 20 percent more participants than last year.

"It is a family disease and a community disease," Prothro said. "Everyone knows someone at work, school or in their neighborhood who has been affected by breast cancer."

Calling the race a "giant" effort involving a year of preparation, 50 sponsors and more than 500 volunteers, Prothro said an added attraction this year was the One Mile Family Fun Walk sponsored by McDonald's.

More than 1,000 kids, including 4-year-old Joseph Flynt, walked a mile-long course wearing oversized T-shirts reading "Kids for the Cure."

Joseph crossed the finish line clasping the hand of his grandmother, breast cancer survivor Collette Yarashus.

The Severna Park resident, who was twice diagnosed with the disease - in 1996 and again in 1998 - choked back tears when talking about her grandson's participation.

"He's the love of my life, and to have him here today to walk with me and make a contribution is amazing," said Yarashus, who lost her sister to breast cancer two years ago.

Breast cancer survivor Jeanne Mackenzie of Ellicott City crossed the finish line of the Family Fun Walk with eight relatives, including her daughters and grandchildren.

"We're all at risk because it's in our family," said Mackenzie's daughter Lisa Cellini. "I hope that my daughter won't have to go through what my mom went through."

Cellini said her daughters and nieces are aware of the importance of early detection, and that breast cancer strikes many women - more than 11,000 every year - younger than age 40.

It's a statistic Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich called "scary" when she addressed yesterday morning's crowd as honorary chairwoman of the race.

"The disease is the leading cause of death among women ages 40 to 59," said Ehrlich, dressed in gray running shorts and the same "Team Ehrlich" T-shirt worn by the family members, aides and state troopers running by her side.

An avid runner and long-time participant in the Race for the Cure, Ehrlich said: "We've done lots to improve treatment for breast cancer, but it's still a very frightening disease."

After greeting several survivors with hugs and high-fives, Ehrlich said that for young women, "It's so important to stay ahead of your health and get annual mammograms."

Several of the women gathered in the race's "Survivor" tent, where they were treated to massages and snacks, were younger than 40.

Deb Mendelson, 35, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32, posed for a photo with a Baltimore-based group she formed called the Young Survivors Coalition.

"People don't realize what the statistics are - that so many people are diagnosed young," Mendelson said, her two sons - ages 7 and 4 - at her side.

Although some serious runners participated in the race, not even the most competitive called the finish time more pressing than the cause.

Eighteen-year-old Dustin Bauer, a cross-country runner at St. Mary's College of Maryland who won the race with a time of just over 16 minutes, said: "I'm happy with my time, but I'm here for the race and the cause."

For volunteer Tammy Bresnahan of Severna Park, the most memorable moment was seeing her 6-year-old son, Samuel, complete the Family Fun Walk.

This week, Bresnahan said, she plans to develop a photo of his finish, frame it and mail it to her sister-in-law in Virginia. At age 50, she was just diagnosed with breast cancer.

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