33,000 race for a cure to breast cancer in Oakland
Darlene Beward of Whitehall cheers during the Survivor's Walk of the Race for the Cure in Schenley Park yesterday. Ms. Beward is a five-year cancer survivor.
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Pink capes bearing the printed message "Heroes for Hope" were flapping all around in Schenley Park at the 17th annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, but the real superheroes wore pink T-shirts.
While the capes were an inspired, new marketing tool handed out on a windy morning by a race sponsor, the T-shirts were more hard won, worn by about 3,000 breast cancer survivors in an upbeat crowd of more than 33,000 people who clogged Oakland on Mother's Day morning.
Jennifer Bodnar, 37, who had run in the race three times before, yesterday ran for the first time in pink. She finished first in the 5K run's "survivor category" where all participants are by definition winners just by showing up.
"This is a great cause and it's a great feeling to participate in this event," said Ms. Bodnar, a pharmacist and Connellsville, Fayette County, native living in Candler, N.C., just outside Asheville. She has a family history of breast cancer and was diagnosed with the disease two years ago.
"Early detection is important," said Ms. Bodnar, who is scheduled to undergo a breast reconstructive procedure at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC today. "Breast cancer affects a lot of people. This is emotional."
Pittsburgh's Race for the Cure is part of a nationwide program of races in more than 100 cities that seek to raise money and breast cancer awareness while celebrating survivors and honoring those who have died from the disease.
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy among women and, after lung cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in North America. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Last year 182,460 women in the United States and an estimated 1.2 million worldwide heard that diagnosis.
Breast cancer's cause is unknown and there is no cure, but survival rates have been rising dramatically over the last decade, due to increased early detection and new treatment options.
The Pittsburgh race, which has grown in recent years to one of the 10 biggest in the nation, has raised more than $20 million, including $2.2 million last year, according to Kathy Purcell, executive director of the Komen organization's Pittsburgh Affiliate.
At least 75 percent of the net proceeds raised each year are used in 30 Pennsylvania counties to educate women about breast cancer, fund a mammogram voucher program and support those diagnosed with the disease. The remainder goes to fund the international research programs of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, founded in 1982 by Nancy Brinker to honor the memory of her sister, a Peoria, Ill., native who died of breast cancer at the age of 36.
Ms. Purcell said race registration this year was down slightly from 2008's record of 35,800 due to bad economic conditions. But a strong Saturday registration of 1,400, plus better-than-expected weather yesterday that brought out another 1,000 people, should help bump participation up, she said. No official numbers were available yesterday.
She said a new program this year, called "Sleep In for the Cure," allows people to make a donation without getting out of bed and should also help boost donations.
"If individuals want to participate but want to spend Mother's Day morning in bed, they can sign up to donate and get a 'Sleep In for the Cure' T-shirt," said Ms. Purcell. "That's been very popular. We bought 500 of those T-shirts and sold out yesterday."
But not showing up would be unthinkable for many in the crowd, who view the race as a Mother's Day tradition and an annual feel-good event, or, given the names of survivors and deceased friends and relatives pinned to the backs of many T-shirts, a bittersweet time of reflection.
"This is a natural high. There's just so many people out here in the fresh air. It's touching," said Janine Frobe, 43, of Butler, whose pink T-shirt was accessorized with a bandana worn around her close-cropped gray hair. She underwent breast cancer surgery three weeks ago.
"I did it for three years for my mom who had cancer and now I'm here with my sisters and mother and nieces for me," Ms. Frobe said. "Watching this procession of runners and walkers pass by is all positive."
But stuck up on the Flagstaff Hill lawn next to the event's music and awards stage, 185 steel-pronged plastic signs, similar to political placards along well-traveled roads and intersections but bearing the names of women who had breast cancer, struck a more somber note.
Fifty-eight of the signs began with the words "in celebration." The rest "in memory." Flower pots and bouquets had been laid next to some.
"They're not supposed to be tombstones. Some are in celebration," said Lauren Qualk, a volunteer holding a clipboard with all of the names. "Sadly, a lot more are in remembrance."
First Published May 11, 2009 12:00 am