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Published: Monday, 9/26/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

17,000 race for the cure

Breast-cancer battlers take cause to downtown streets

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Stephanie Lincoln, left, hugs her friend Yolanda Willis as she runs by during the Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure in downtown Toledo. The head scarf was in keeping with the color of the day. Stephanie Lincoln, left, hugs her friend Yolanda Willis as she runs by during the Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure in downtown Toledo. The head scarf was in keeping with the color of the day.
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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.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more pictures from the Komen Race for the Cure

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.

Ron Hawkins and his wife, Yvonne, of Perrysburg, search for names on a survivor banner during the race. Ms. Hawkins, in the race’s signature pink Sunday, is an 11-year breast-cancer survivor. Ron Hawkins and his wife, Yvonne, of Perrysburg, search for names on a survivor banner during the race. Ms. Hawkins, in the race’s signature pink Sunday, is an 11-year breast-cancer survivor.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Mary Westphal, executive director of the Northwest Ohio Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, estimated the event brought in about $900,000, and said she would not know until late October whether the group reached its $1 million fund-raising goal.

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.

Start High School cheerleaders keep the spirit high as they encourage the estimated 17,000 runners and walkers in the 5K Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure downtown. Start High School cheerleaders keep the spirit high as they encourage the estimated 17,000 runners and walkers in the 5K Komen Northwest Ohio Race for the Cure downtown.
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“You don’t know anybody, but you know everybody,” was how Ms. Francisco put it.

“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.

Albert Liu, left, and Ethan Miller wear fun hats as they warm up for the annual Komen Race for the Cure. Many of the participants Sunday wore offbeat garb including pink tutus and witches’ hats. Albert Liu, left, and Ethan Miller wear fun hats as they warm up for the annual Komen Race for the Cure. Many of the participants Sunday wore offbeat garb including pink tutus and witches’ hats.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Jo An Matney remembered her mother — a laid-back woman who loved baking and canning tomatoes and apples, who died of breast cancer at age 62 in 1989.

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: grusson@theblade.com or 419-724-6026.



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