A sea of pink flooded the streets of downtown Miami on Saturday as over 19,000 supporters and survivors sweated in the name of charity for the 14th Annual Miami/Ft. Lauderdale Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The event kicked off with a survivor procession and subsequent ceremony in which surprise celebrity guest Danny Wood of New Kids On The Block sang a song in memory of his mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Wood, who lost her battle with breast cancer in September of 1999. Wood, who has raised over $300,000 for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, founded The Betty Wood Breast Cancer Foundation to memorialize his mother and raise money for cancer research.
Breast cancer forms in tissues of the breast, usually the ducts and lobules, and occurs in both men and women. According to the National Cancer Institute, almost 200,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed and over 40,000 have died from the disease in 2009 alone. Far too many people are unaware of the symptoms of the disease or simply cannot afford to seek treatment, a critical issue that Susan G. Komen for the Cure aims to eradicate through spreading awareness, empowering people and raising funds to ensure quality care and energize science to find cures for millions of affected individuals.
Although thousands lose the fight with breast cancer every year, thousands more are lucky enough to call themselves survivors, and it is their stories that we must celebrate. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Kim Scharding in the Survivor Tent and learn about her incredible struggle. Scharding, 32, was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer in February of 2009. The cancer, which manifests itself as a bug bite, didn’t alarm her at first, and so she waited two months before seeking treatment. As she waited, the small bumps, which appeared to be bites, had lumps forming beneath them and eventually took over her whole breast. With no family history of breast cancer and youth on her side, Kim never had a mammogram done. Her BRAC analysis test came back negative as well.
“Inflammatory breast cancer is a rapid killer and people often wind up dead before they even know they have it,” she shared, “and they told me the younger you are the harder it hits. This is the battle of my life and I figure I’m gonna win it, and I did.” Kim now sports a pink ribbon tattoo on her thumb and does everything she can to stay positive and strong in her struggle. Having volunteered and donated in the past, but never been a religious part of Susan G. Komen’s cause, she is now a lifer.
“It was really powerful walking down that promenade. It’s such a sisterhood here. It’s a wonderful thing,” she said. “If it weren’t for Susan G. Komen I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did and my breast cancer center wouldn’t have been as powerful. Knowledge is definitely the key when it comes to battling this. My first oncologist had no idea what kind of cancer I had and didn’t even bother explaining it to me, let alone my options, so when I found my breast cancer center [through Memorial Healthcare Systems] it was a whole different world. It changed my attitude completely. They have a wonderful team. When my oncologist kissed me on the cheek the first time I met her I thought, well that’s weird, and now I can’t wait to see the girls every time I go. The more survivors I talk to, we all say that cancer is almost a gift because it teaches you to be grateful for the amount of people out there who do care. It really opens your eyes and teaches you how to not be selfish and pay it forward.”
As I walked out of that tent and back into the warm South Florida sunshine, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and admiration for the strength and interminable will of survivors like Kim and the perspective they can often bring to our lives. Then I took my chance to pay it forward and made a donation in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You should too.