Denise Francisco was terrified after she learned she had breast cancer last year because she didn’t know what would happen next and whether she’d live through the disease.
But her life went on and, just as she normally did, she picked up double shifts at Dena’s Family Restaurant in Monroe and spent hours working out even as she underwent cancer treatment.
“What other choice do you have?” said Ms. Francisco of LaSalle, Mich.
Her matter-of-fact attitude motivated her son, and Sunday he held her tightly and kissed her cheek, trying not to cry.
“She’s an inspiration, definitely,” said Jeremy Geiman, 28, of LaSalle.
They stood in a crowd of thousands Sunday awaiting the start of the 18th annual Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure in downtown Toledo.
This year, the 5K run and walk drew about 17,000 participants to raise money for cancer awareness, treatment, and prevention programs in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
Ms. Westphal said she did not believe Toledo Catholic Bishop Leonard Blair’s July directive to parishes and schools in the 19-county diocese not to give money to the Komen Foundation had a noticeable effect on the fund-raising or the event.
During the event, the color of the day was, clearly, pink. Pink T-shirts. Pink pompons. Pink bandanas on dogs. Pink hair dye. One Toledo police officer was wearing pink Nikes.
Ms. Francisco was no exception to the color code. She wore a pink tutu and pink witch’s hat.
“It was great,” said Ms. Francisco, 53, who is now in remission, after she finished the race.
Others had stories similar to Ms. Francisco’s — only the dates, places, and names were different — of when they learned they had breast cancer, the emotions they felt, and how their friends and family members encouraged them.
For strangers, there was a special camaraderie brought out by battling the disease.
“People hug you and call you their sister,” said Kaye Spicer, a music teacher at Haskins Elementary School in the Otsego Local Schools district.
Mrs. Spicer recalled how, after she was was given a diagnosis of cancer and was undergoing a mastectomy and chemotherapy, her fellow teachers and church friends took meals to her family. It was a lifesaver for her husband, Mark, who didn’t cook.
Now, she marked 10 years of being cancer free, and many of those same supporters from a decade ago wore T-shirts with her name and musical notes on them to celebrate.
“It’s pretty emotional for both of us,” Mr. Spicer said as the couple stood together Sunday in the crowded street.
And while music blared loudly and some runners danced, the scene was more somber than celebratory for some.
But it didn’t end there. Over the next several years, Mrs. Matney’s aunt and older sister also died of the disease.
Sunday, just as she has done for 15 years, Mrs. Matney watched the 5K and thought of them.
“The pain is really great for the person who has the disease. But the pain is also there for the family — it’s a family battle,” said Mrs. Matney, who is retired and lives in Petersburg, Mich. “It’s hard to put it into words.”
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6026.