Survivors of breast cancer race to spread awareness | AspenTimes.com

Survivors of breast cancer race to spread awareness

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pink was in fashion en masse Saturday.

Nearly 1,300 entrants turned out for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Aspen, and many were sporting pink placards used to honor a victim of breast cancer.

The name cards, clipped to a racer’s shirt either to remember those who lost their lives to the disease or to celebrate the lucky ones who survived, are a familiar sight at Komen Foundation fund-raisers. The brightly colored signs were spotted at both Saturday’s Race for the Cure as well as Sunday’s Bicycle for the Cure, during which joggers, walkers and bikers alike helped raise money for breast cancer research.

But one Basalt family went beyond the pink memorial placards in honoring a lost loved one.

Ginny Parker, her son David and her grandchildren Bobby and Elizabeth arrived at Rio Grande Park Saturday wearing T-shirts printed with the name, photo and favorite motto – “Live, Laugh, Love” – of their daughter, sister and aunt, Nancy Parker-West. Parker-West died in 1998 after a nearly eight-year battle with breast cancer, Ginny Parker said, and the shirts are just one way her family has chosen to honor her memory.

Attending Komen-related fund-raisers such as the Race for the Cure is another.

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“For me, this is a special day to think about her and all the things she did,” Ginny said.

“And honor all those people who are helping, in a small way, to find a cure,” David added.

Aspen’s Komen Race for the Cure has become an annual staple after the first event 12 years ago, but the Komen legacy dates back over two decades. When 36-year-old Susan G. Komen lost her battle with breast cancer, her family organized the Komen Foundation to educate others about the deadly disease – and, hopefully, raise the money needed to research and eradicate it.

The organization has sponsored many fund-raisers, beginning with the first Race for the Cure in 1980. The local event has grown, and now includes a 5K foot race, a one-mile family walk, a 100-yard dash for kids and, most recently, bike races from Aspen Highlands to the Maroon Bells.

Melanie Roschko of Aspen became involved with the local chapter of the Komen Foundation in its inaugural year. Five years ago, Roschko was diagnosed with the disease she pledged to fight when she joined forces with the foundation.

Roschko received her diagnosis before her case became too severe. She credits her involvement with the Komen Foundation for helping her through a difficult period.

“It gave me a lot of knowledge,” she said.

Komen Foundation volunteers hoped to arm many more with the same knowledge Saturday, thanks to special booths set up at the race’s Rio Grande Park start and finish line. Some volunteers distributed pamphlets about self-examination, while others advertised clinics that offer free mammograms. Special speakers dominated a small stage in a corner of the park, warning that breast cancer “crosses all lines, all genders,” and both men and women should be on alert for the warning signs of the disease.

Though race officials occasionally adopted a cautionary tone during Saturday’s events, most of the day was used to celebrate those who have won their battle against breast cancer and moved on to educate others. A special presentation allowed those in pink race shirts and ball caps – the honorary color presented to breast cancer survivors – to gather for a group sing-a-long as well as to meet fellow survivors.

Aspen resident Kim Kelly, wearing her own pink shirt and cap, called the meeting “inspirational.” Another heartening sign at the event, she said, was the appearance of “a lot of baldies” – those who recently lost their hair to grueling chemotherapy treatments, but chose to attend the race to show their support for others.

Kelly was in the middle of her own chemotherapy regimen when she entered her first Race for the Cure. Now cancer-free, Kelly competed her third race this weekend – and, she was happy to note, so did over a thousand friends and neighbors.

“It’s wonderful to have so many people supportive of this cause,” she said.