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Thousands turn out to support breast-cancer survivors at Komen fundraiser

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As Julie Stickler remembers it, the first lump in her breast was discovered in 2002, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

She was 32 and was told the lump wasn’t harmful. Wait until 40 to get a mammogram, she was told. Nine years later, when she was 41, that mammogram detected what turned out to be several cancerous lumps in her right breast and a tumor in her left breast. As it turns out, the tumor had probably been there for several years.

Stickler got a double mastectomy in 2011.

Now 44, Stickler, who lives in Asheboro, is an advocate for those who are fighting breast cancer, said Mary T. Perkins, a former vice president of Brenner Children’s Hospital and now a volunteer at Komen Northwest N.C.

On Saturday, at a Komen fundraiser that culminated in a ceremony for hundreds of survivors at BB&T Ballpark, Stickler was named survivor of the year. She sits with patients who are enduring chemotherapy, Perkins said over the speakers. She shares her scars, if appropriate. She knows about the fear, the anger, the confusion.

Stickler, standing near the pitcher’s mound, surrounded by breast-cancer survivors, was the center of attention because of what she knows now and wishes she had done in 2002.

“I wish I had more courage in advocating for myself, to get more testing,” Stickler said. “If you feel you need more testing, get it.”

Emphasizing local impact

Nearly 5,000 people walked or ran about 3 miles in downtown Winston-Salem as part of Komen’s signature fundraising event, known as Race for the Cure.

They helped raise about $155,000, according to Diana Parrish, the executive director of Susan G. Komen Northwest N.C. By Oct. 31, the local Komen affiliate has a goal of raising more than $300,000. About 25 percent of the money goes to the national organization, and about 75 percent goes to health organizations in 11 area counties.

Some of the organizations include the Davidson County Health Department; Davie County Health Department; Cancer Services Inc.; Community Care Center for Forsyth County, Inc.; Forsyth County Department of Public Health; Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Impact program; and the Derrick L. Davis Forsyth Regional Cancer Center/ Forsyth Medical Center Foundation, among other organizations.

Komen’s fundraising efforts faced an unexpected challenge in the 2012 cycle, after the national organization stirred divisions over its decisions to withdraw – and then restore – funding to Planned Parenthood.

The local Komen affiliate saw its registration numbers drop 39 percent in 2012, from 7,606 the previous year to 4,654, less than two weeks ahead of the annual fundraiser, officials said at the time. Fundraising dropped 43 percent, from $219,736 to $126,418, local Komen officials said.

Since that time, Komen Northwest N.C. has changed a few things, particularly its emphasis on letting people know that most of the money stays in the 11-county area surrounding Forsyth.

“We are local,” Parrish said. “That’s who we are.”

New programs highlight the local impact. One of them is called Faces of Breast Cancer, in which a survivor, co-survivor (caregiver) or “previvor” (gene carrier) serve as an ambassador for their counties for one year, Parrish said.

Another tweak was made to the date and location of Saturday’s Race for the Cure fundraiser.

This year was the first time that the event was held at BB&T Ballpark; previously, it had been held at Salem College in May, and that timing was off. Parrish said that students are leaving in May. Now, as Komen heads into the home stretch of its campaign to raise money, students will be around.

Next year, she said, the organizers will also try to have it on a weekend that does not coincide with a major fundraiser for the National MS Society, the Tour to Tanglewood.

Procession of pink

After the race participants had made their way through 3-plus miles of downtown, another procession of pink walked out of the home-side dugout.

In BB&T Ballpark, taking the field first was a cluster of women – and some of their loved ones – who were given a diagnosis of breast cancer 30-plus years ago.

Rounding the bases, clockwise, they walked from the dugout to first base, then headed to home plate, to third, second and back to first.

Hundreds of other breast-cancer survivors, dressed in pink, some going on 20 years since their diagnoses, some for 10, some for five, walked onto the baseball field, the years ticking down.

Bringing up the final cluster was a group who received a diagnosis of breast cancer within the past year.

After about 10 minutes of the procession, after all had finally taken the field, the bases were loaded two or three rows deep with pink women, as well as their backup squads: husbands, relatives and friends.

In the fight against breast cancer, Parrish said, nobody has to be alone.

The ultimate goal of the Komen Race for the Cure fundraiser is to provide the support to see that those with recent diagnoses make it through the illness, to see that they, too, can say that they are a survivor of 30-plus years.