‘Where hope grows, miracles blossom’

Kent students join in the Race for the Cure

Delta Sigma Phi sister Jessica Wilkins from Bowling Green has a laugh while doing Jazzercise in front of pink-wig-wearing Sharon Bercene, of Cleveland, before the start of the walking portion of Saturday morning’s Race for the Cure in Cleveland. Wilkins d

Credit: Ron Soltys


Click here for video of the event.

Only one event could get Clevelanders out and wearing pink bunny ears on a blustery Saturday morning.

The Komen Northeast Ohio Race for the Cure brought out an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 breast cancer survivors, family, friends and supporters Saturday. Their goal was to raise $2 million for breast cancer research and prevention.

Many wore pink bunny ears supplied by Energizer because “breast cancer survivors keep on going and going.”

Among the crowd was the 20-person strong Team Kent, made up of students, faculty and community members alike.

Marianne Kalbaugh, secretary at the Kent State Women’s Resource Center, put together the team. With the center searching for a director, it was uncertain if it would field a team this year, but Kalbaugh decided to step up to the challenge.

“It’s a very worthwhile cause,” she said. “It’s something I strongly believe in.”

This was the second time Kalbaugh participated in the Race for the Cure.

“Every time I go up, it is such an uplifting feeling,” she said. “It’s kind of hard for me to explain.”

The center is also planning on having a team next year, Kalbaugh said.

Early to bed and early to rise

Members of Team Kent left from the Student Center bus stop at 6 a.m., some with blankets and pillows so they could sleep on the ride to Cleveland. All were dressed to run or walk the 5K, the morning’s main event.

Julia Gilbert, a junior nutrition and dietetics major, sat in the back of the bus with Sarah Jacob, a junior interpersonal communications major, and Lauren Strohl, a sophomore international relations major.

The friends said they looked forward to the event, which promised to be better than last year, when it rained and sleeted on the race participants. Despite the poor weather, they said they still enjoyed themselves.

“It’s an event where complete strangers can get together and unite and walk around for a good cause,” Jacob said. “It’s just a great event. Tens of thousands of people ran in the rain, so obviously it’s a great cause. It takes up the whole city.”

Strohl said she has participated in the Race for the Cure in Columbus with her family for close to 10 years.

Her aunt’s mother had breast cancer, and it “affected everyone in between, so we all came together,” she said. “It’s something that my family has done for years, and it’s a good and beautiful thing.”

Jacob said she found it incredible how many families and men come out for the race.

“People see the pink ribbon and think that it’s just for chicks to go to, but no, everyone can,” she said. “Guys can get breast cancer too.”

Team Kent member Hobson Hamilton was personally affected by cancer when he lost both his sister and sister-in-law to breast cancer in 1991. The Akron resident has participated in the Race for the Cure for the past 10 years. He said the event is important because it helps to raise awareness about the disease and the importance of detecting it early.

“What’s motivating to me is seeing the survivors,” he said. “There is a lot of good hope when you see people surviving five, 10 , 15 years because it (breast cancer) was caught early.”

He said he was also moved by the amount of support people give the event.

“It’s good to see the same people year after year supporting the event,” he said. “It’s a unified effort to support the same cause.”

A race to recovery

The sun was just rising when the bus entered downtown Cleveland and the team stepped out into the wind. As Team Kent disappeared into the crowd, others stood out.

Breast cancer survivors lined up for the Survivor Ceremony under signs indicating how many years they have survived cancer. Each held a pink rose with a tag that read “where hope grows, miracles blossom.”

Carol Houseman, of the Cleveland area, stood in the line for 20-year survivors. She said she is a 26-year survivor and has been attending the Race for the Cure for 10 years.

“It’s a wonderful, uplifting, inspiring event,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful feeling to see all these people walk and run for us. My heart swells.”

She said she thought it was important for the older survivors to be there for the newly diagnosed so that they could see that women can survive breast cancer.

Sally Bohn, of Mentor, has been cancer-free for 17 years. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 56 and underwent a mastectomy to have the cancer removed. Her grandmother also had breast cancer.

She said she has been participating in the Race for the Cure for 15 years, which she finds very rewarding.

“This is the way we show our survival. It is a race to recovery for people who had the same disease,” she said.

Across the crowd of pink stood Deanna Healy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2006. The Lyndhurst native said it was her second time attending the race.

“It was a very nice experience.” she said. “It’s unbelievable to be here.”

She said she would tell women just beginning breast cancer treatment to believe and to have a lot of faith and courage.

Group effort

Vendors and various support groups lined the grassy areas near the main stage. One of them, the Lesbian Cancer Survivor Support Group, started after founder J.J. Jursik found she was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 11 years ago.

“I was diagnosed with mammograms,” she said. “Had it not been for mammograms, it would have been almost the end. They do save lives.”

She said she attended a lesbian variety show and asked if any one knew of any support groups for lesbians with breast cancer.

“I was 49 when I got breast cancer and I said ‘I need a breast cancer support group,'” she said. “There were lots of regular support groups, but none for lesbians.”

An individual from the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland helped her get the group started.

At its inception, the group only had a few members, but now there are about 20 people on the roster. Jursik said some members have died and some have moved, but in all, around 40 women identify themselves with the group.

“The center has been supportive of me since the conception,” Jursik said. “Without them, I would be no where.”

The group meets monthly in private locations to offer “you or your partner who has been diagnosed with cancer a safe and non-threatening environment,” according to the group’s literature.

In memory of…

Some Race for the Cure participants wear signs on their backs – “in memory of” signs indicate the person has lost a friend or family member to breast cancer while “in celebration of” signs indicate the person knows a breast cancer survivor.

Vicky Witter of Uniontown had one of the “in memory” signs on her back to commemorate her father, Harold, who died of breast cancer in October 2003.

Witter said that everyone needs to be aware of this disease because breast cancer can affect men as well as women.

“I think that men and women need to be aware the disease, especially men,” she said.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 2,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed among men in the United States this year.

Witter said the same treatments used on women don’t necessarily work for men with the disease.

“They treated them just like women, but a lot of the treatments didn’t work on men,” she said

Witter participated in the 5K walk at the race this year and said that coming to the event gave her a good feeling.

“I feel really great,” she said. ” I enjoy it.”

In celebration of.

Before the race, participants milled around. As the song “Celebration” blasted from the speakers near the main stage, six women from Cleveland danced in the middle of the crowd.

“Celebrate good times, come on!” they shouted.

The women have been attending the Race for the Cure for eight years to celebrate their friend Tensie Holland, an 18-year survivor of breast cancer.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate survivors,” they said.

After the race started, those not participating made their way to the finish line, where the times of the first three men, women and survivors were recorded.

As they approached the finish line, some survivors raised their arms and cheered, and the crowd cheered with them. Some high-fived the crowd as they ran past.

Others, supported by friends and family, fought back tears.

Across the street, a group of about 20 teenage girls held banners and shouted cheerleader-style into megaphones.

“S-A-V-E. Save a life! We are the cure.”

Contact student life reporters Kristen Kotz at [email protected] and Theresa Bruskin at [email protected].