Thousands expected for annual benefit for breast-cancer cure

The 13th annual Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure in Seattle is scheduled for June 17, and organizers are expecting around 15,000 people to take part in the 5K walk and run, according to race director Mindy Goforth.

But there's been a name change from last year, when the fundraising event was called the Seattle Race for the Cure. This year, it's called the Puget Sound Race for the Cure because there are so many race participants who live on the Eastside, in Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, and in outlying areas, Goforth said.

"It attracts both men and women," she said of the race, "and it's a disease that affects both men and women." Indeed, according to the Race for the Cure brochure, an estimated 211,240 women and 1,690 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year in America.

Thanks to research and raised awareness about the disease, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer if it's detected early has gone up from 75 percent in the 1970s to 95 percent today, Goforth said. "Komen has really raised the bar over the past 20 years with awareness."

Cherie Skager, local director of grants and education for the foundation, agrees. "When Komen began, no one really spoke about breast cancer," she said. "It used to be thought of as a death sentence."

The Dallas-based foundation was formed in 1982 because of a promise to find a cure that Nancy Brinker made to her sister, Susan Komen, who died of breast cancer when she was only 36. Today, there are 116 affiliates nationwide, and internationally in Rome, Germany and Puerto Rico, Goforth said.

There is a committed base of participants who are both supporters, who wear white T-shirts, and breast-cancer survivors, who wear pink T-shirts, she said.

Therese Billings, a five-time breast-cancer survivor from Queen Anne, has taken part in the race every year since 2000, and she finds the sea of pink shirts at the race both comforting and inspiring. "Watching thousands of people in pink shirts, you know you aren't alone," she said. "The energy there is phenomenal."

Billings, who was first diagnosed with the disease in 1995, was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, and that prompted her to take part in the race for the first time. "After the diagnosis in 2000, I really wanted to contribute any way I could to rid the planet of this terrible disease," she explained.

Billings added that she hopes her presence at the races will give hope to others suffering from the disease because she's in such good health. Billings, an administrative assistant at the YMCA, had a personal example.

"I ran into a woman last year who was in a wheelchair," Billings said of someone who had survived three bouts with breast cancer and was feeling down. But the woman's attitude changed when Billings told her she had survived five times. "She just lit up and said, 'Oh my God, you've given me hope,'" Billings remembers with a smile.

Sponsored by numerous organizations and businesses that include King-5 TV, the Swedish Cancer Institute, Chevron and Amgen, the Race for the Cure in Seattle raised more than $1.2 million last year after expenses, Goforth said.

Sound Transit is another race sponsor, and the agency plans to wrap its Tacoma-to-Seattle Sounder train in pink ribbon on May 15 to promote the race, she said. "That's a huge deal for Sound Transit."

"The cool thing about these races is 75 percent of the funds raised remain in the local community," she said of grants made to organizations that provide free mammograms, for example.

The other 25 percent of the funds raised is sent to national headquarters in Dallas, where the money is doled out in research grants after a blind, peer-review process, said local grant director Skager.

Past recipients have included the Fred Hutcheson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, but grants are also awarded to scientists with new ideas and great potential, she said. "There's a lot of great research out there now."

The Komen foundation requires affiliates to spend no more than 25 percent of the money raised on organizational efforts, said Skager, who added the local chapter did even better than that. Last year, the Seattle group spent 6 percent on administrative costs and 14 percent on fundraising efforts, she said.

Skager said it's important to support the race. There are more than 2 million breast-cancer survivors in the country now, she said. "But we still do have a long way to go."

Race for the Cure participants include children, teams are often formed, and money for the Komen Foundation is raised from pledges supporters make to the racers.

Racers can register online at until 11:59 p.m. June 15, or by mail if the application is postmarked by June 2. The applications can be obtained at many local sports stores.[[In-content Ad]]