Every year, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation of Central New York strives to surpass itself.
“We raised over $500,000 last year and more than 6,500 people participated,” said Kate Flannery, executive director of Komen CNY, before the 2007 event. “That is an increase of more than 20 percent over last year, and our goal is to surpass last year.”
This year, Komen CNY reached that goal. Over 7,000 people took part in the 2007 Race for the Cure, held Saturday May 19 at the Fairgrounds. Komen CNY staffers are still tallying the money raised, and donations are still being accepted. Money from the Race for the Cure goes toward grants, 21 at last count, to provide education, treatment and assistance in the battle against cancer.
Flannery, who was co-director of Vera House before taking her current position a year ago, said breast cancer touches everyone’s lives.
“Everyone is affected at some point,” she said. “It can be someone’s mother, sister, cousin, wife. This race is so important for a number of reasons. It is not only a way to raise money, but an educational and awareness opportunity that is very powerful and shows community support and advocacy. Clearly, our goal is to raise money to fight this disease, but our goal is also to come together as a community in strength and support.”
Among those who ran in this year’s race were two groups from Liverpool schools. Geren Gagliardi, a fourth grade teacher, led Willow Field Elementary’s Running Club in the run; Chestnut Hill Middle’s Larisa Farlin and Soule Road Middle’s Jennifer Caples also put together a team. Both Gagliardi and Farlin said while they enjoy running, the Race for the Cure offered an opportunity to share something important with the kids — something beyond the rush of the race.
“We run together — we’ve run marathons and stuff,” Farlin said of herself and Caples. “So this was an opportunity to get the kids involved in something we like to do. But on a personal level, my mother and my aunt had breast cancer. Since the race used to fall on Mother’s Day, I’ve always put together a team sort of as a gift to my mom.”
“It’s something I’m very passionate about,” Gagliardi said. “My grandmother had breast cancer, so I run it in her memory. A lot of the families who are participating with Willow Field have participated for years because they’ve had family members touched by cancer.”
While Gagliardi felt her young charges should learn more about the race from their parents, Farlin said her middle school runners knew what it was all about.
“We talk to them about what it benefits and let them know what it’s for,” she said. “The kids did a research paper on nonprofit organizations, and some of them did The Komen Foundation or The American Cancer Society, so they already were pretty aware.”
Both teachers said the race was a great experience for the kids and their families.
“Kids so rarely get an experience like this,” Farlin said. “It’s so good and positive for them to see the support for cancer patients and survivors. It’s something they don’t get exposure to. It’s great.”
“The school’s been really supportive,” Gagliardi said. “We had Pink Day [the day before the race, when everyone was asked to wear pink to support the cause] at Willow Field, and the number of people — students, teachers, staff, parents — who did it was just amazing. [Principal Chick Quattrini] made a sign for us. It’s just a great community event.”
The race isn’t just a time to raise money and to support cancer patients; it’s also a time for survivors to celebrate their victory over the disease.
Debbie Marris was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2003. Marris, who lives in New Woodstock with her husband Kevin and children Justin, Becky and Katie, underwent six and a half months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy.
“I had done the Race for the Cure twice before, just because people I knew needed someone else on their team,” Marris said. “I still didn’t realize that I had almost every risk factor except family history. I had all of the other ones, but because I had no family history, I didn’t think I was at risk.”
Marris is now in remission; she had her last treatment in April of 2004. Still, she remains vigilant. “Anyone who’s had cancer knows that your body can turn on you any time,” she said. “You’re always at risk.”
Marris said that the Race for the Cure serves as an inspiration to breast cancer patients, the money raised there providing them with options — and options mean hope.
“The public support is a huge thing when you’re in treatment,” she said. “All you can think about is, ‘Am I going to be one of the ones that lives or one of the ones that dies?’ Sometimes, conventional treatments might not work. The money raised at the Race for the Cure helps with trials or new drugs. It gives you another option.”
Obviously, said Marris, who works in Fayetteville and grew up in East Syracuse, awareness is the key factor.
“There’s always one person that maybe will hear something they didn’t know,” she said.
Marris advises women to be familiar with their bodies and to pay attention to any change.
“I heard someone say it on TV once — know the landscape of your body,” she said. “That’s what’s going to save you. Any little thing is going to be so important. I didn’t feel a lump or anything — I just noticed that my breast didn’t look the same. It was just something I questioned. That’s what you need to do — look in the mirror, look at your body, know what’s there and what’s not.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.