Whitney Palmer

Healthcare. Politics. Family.

Running for the Cure

Published in the June 2004 AAMC Courier

As I stood at the corner of Ninth Street and Constitution Avenue at 7:20 a.m., I found myself surrounded by a sea of white T-shirts with more than a few waves of pink. A light rain drizzled down, occasionally giving way to a harder pelt, and the temperature was an unseasonably cool 65 degrees. But the overcast skies, water and chill hadn’t kept the crowd of nearly 60,000 at home.

Instead, thousands covered in light rain parkas or bedecked in spandex running shorts stood in the middle of the street, stretching their muscles — they were preparing to start the 5K National Race for the Cure. And this year, I was one of them.

During childhood, I stood at the finish line, waiting for my father to cross. In my closet, I have shirts from almost every race he finished — the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, S.C. or any March of Dimes Race. But I’d never laced up my own sneakers to run.

This June 5 was different, though. Not only had my father surprised me and traveled nine hours to run with me, but we had a reason to run through the middle of Independence Avenue. My mother is a breast cancer survivor, and we ran in her honor.

So, at 8 a.m., we started our run down the Mall, back up in front of the Air and Space Museum, over and back across the Tidal Basin and partly up 15th Street. In a little over a half hour (though the time doesn’t matter), we crossed the finish line, marking two important moments — our first father/daughter race and our first contribution to the fight against breast cancer.

Since the 1940s, the incidence of breast cancer has risen in the United States by 1 percent each year. The numbers are only now beginning to level off. Still, roughly 216,000 American women will be diagnosed in 2004 alone. However, screenings and education programs have drive the mortality rate down, even though occurrence is still high.

Every year since the early 1980s, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation raises tens of millions of dollars to fund research for a cure. Each year, up to 75 percent of funds raised remain in the local communities, supporting educational and outreach programs, as well as screenings for underserved women. At least 25 percent goes to the Foundation, founded in 1983, to back breast cancer research, meritorious awards and scientific programs around the world.

Last year, in D.C. alone, thanks to more than 61,000 participants, the foundation raised more than $2.6 million, and $1 million of that remained in our area to treat local women. That’s a long way to come from the race’s humble beginnings here in the nation’s capital.

The first Race for the Cure in the District occurred in 1990. Former Carter White House Social Secretary Gretchen Poston, Marilyn Quayle  and Washington Post fashion editor Nine Hyde spearheaded the project and gathered roughly 7,500 people and almost $500,000 for the cause.

The way the Foundation has grown in the past 20 years is proof that one person can start a snowball effect that changes the lives of thousands of other people. Nancy Brinker launched the race in 1983 to honor a promise she made to her sister Susan Komen. Before losing her three-year battle with cancer, Komen asked her sister to do everything she could to further breast cancer research and to educate women about the deadly disease. Brinker started fundraising with the first race in Dallas. It had only 800 participants. Today, Race for the Cure is the largest 5K race/walk in the world.

Judging by this year’s turnout, the event will only continue to grow in size. Each year, more and more survivors don their pink shirts, identifying themselves as the ones who beat the disease, and join the thousands in support of those still suffering. While seeing more pink shirts means doctors are diagnosing and treating breast cancer earlier, there are many, my family included, who look forward to the day when the Komen Foundation has reached its goal of finding a cure.

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March 24, 2010 - Posted by | Family, Healthcare | , , , , , ,

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