An essential life lesson, courtesy of Mean Lene

October 21, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Mean Lene's Posse is slated to walk in the Race for the Cure tomorrow, marking the 18th straight year the group has participated in the event.

"Lene" is Darlene Stewart. The nickname comes from her family members. She's a breast cancer survivor of 41 years. The first year she ran in the Race for the Cure, her posse consisted of just herself and her husband, Charlie Stewart, who also goes by the moniker "Charm City Charlie." In fact, the duo weren't even officially Mean Lene's Posse then.

As the Stewarts continued to show up year after year, more people joined them in either walking or running.

"Then somebody suggested I join their team," Darlene Stewart recalled. "I said, `I can start my own team.'"

And so Mean Lene's Posse was born. If you're walking or running in the Race for the Cure today, look for the sign that members of Mean Lene's Posse carry. (It'll say just that: Mean Lene's Posse.) You might want to check for the T-shirts they wear and listen for the songs they sing, too.

The T-shirts come courtesy of Eric Stewart, son of Charlie and Darlene, who's the president of eMortgage Solutions Inc., a four-year-old mortgage brokerage company that Eric hopes will become a mortgage lending company soon. Eric also treats members of Mean Lene's Posse to a brunch after the race. With 85 posse members this year, that doesn't come cheap.

"We had 90 last year," Darlene said before explaining why her posse numbers are down this year. "We ran into Morgan [State University's] homecoming this year. It's the same weekend."

Despite fewer members, Mean Lene's Posse of 2006 has people from eight states. They don't come just for the vittles Eric provides. It's Mean Lene and her successful bout against cancer in 1965 that provides inspiration.

"I was doing a self-exam," Darlene, who was only in her 20s, said of that day in Philadelphia just before she learned she had breast cancer. "I felt a lump. I went to my doctor, who lived right around the corner."

Her physician didn't feel a lump until Darlene placed his hand directly on it. The same thing happened after her physician sent her to a surgeon. It was only after a biopsy was performed that doctors discovered a malignancy that required a radical mastectomy.

"That's why it's good to examine yourself," Darlene said. "Nobody knows your body like you." She doesn't remember how, in 1965, she learned that women should perform their own breast exams, but speculates that she probably read about it in a women's magazine. That self-exam and her annual visits to her physician saved her life.

Darlene said her husband handled her mastectomy better than she did.

"At that time, cancer was a death sentence," Charlie said. "I had made up my mind she was going to make it. She was convinced she wasn't going to make it. She was also worried that because the breast had been removed I was going to move out or something. That never entered my mind."

Obviously not. Any man who'd leave his wife because she had a mastectomy isn't worth being married to in the first place. Charlie is the committin' kind: the Stewarts recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary.

Charlie came to Baltimore in December of 1973 to take a job at the Social Security Administration. Darlene followed him in January of 1974. They've been here ever since. Charlie retired from his SSA job two years ago and now works as director of public relations for eMortgage Solutions. Eric is a graduate of Northwestern High School in Baltimore and Morgan State University.

Darlene learned about the first Race for the Cure from a newspaper story and decided she would try to make the next one.

"Since I was a breast cancer survivor, I wanted to help raise money for a cure," she said. She missed the next year, too. But she was there the third year.

"The first [race] was really hardest for me," Darlene said. "I went on the field and saw all those pink shirts, which means they were all survivors. I just cried."

Those were tears shed for survivors of breast cancer, which are preferable to tears being shed for those who would have survived if the disease had been detected early enough. Darlene emphasized - because it can't be emphasized enough - what women need to do to detect breast cancer early.

"I definitely say examine yourself every year," Darlene recommended. "You should definitely get a mammogram." Darlene is still amazed at what she hears from some women who've conducted their own breast exams.

"They discover a lump," she said, "and don't want to go see a doctor. They're afraid of what they might hear."

It's what they won't hear - for an eternity - if they don't see a doctor that should be their major concern.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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