At Komen race, breast cancer fundraisers wear the cause proudly

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010; C01

"Yes they're fake," declared one T-shirt, referring to the breasts of the wearer. "My real ones tried to kill me."

"Operation Support 2nd Base," said another.

"Stop the War in Myraq," read a third.

Funny, inspiring, heartbreaking and sometimes bawdy, the T-shirts on display Saturday at Washington's annual Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure again served to illustrate how many people cope with breast cancer.

The shirts are becoming a core element of the race, now in its 21st year, which has raised more than $25 million since its inception. About 40,000 people ran or walked Saturday.

For some, the bolder their slogans the better, because they want to spur others to get a checkup and help take the secrecy out of the disease.

"There's no excuse for not talking about it," said participant Krysta Scharlach, 32, whose tank top said "Save the Tatas." She doesn't have breast cancer, but ran to support the cause.

Other T-shirt slogans: "These Boobs Were Made for Walking," "Taking Care of the Girls," "Check Your Bumps for Lumps," "Hope for Hooters," as well as white sashes bearing the motto "Tata Sisterhood."

"It's an expression of their personalities," said race spokesman Sean Tuffnell, "and how they're positioning themselves in their fight."

Karen Harrington, 53, of Cheltenham, Md., had always known the risks of breast cancer. She's an oncology research manager at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And her younger sister had had the disease.

One morning, she felt a lump. Within a week, she said, she was on the phone with her sister.

"We're going to treat it, and it's going to be fine," Harrington said, knowing by the silence that her sister and best friend was starting to cry.

In May 2009, Harrington had her left breast removed, followed by chemotherapy and radiation -- an ordeal that led the two sisters to sign up for their first Global Race.

On a speaker-phone call in March, the sisters and their husbands discussed T-shirt slogans that would serve as their team name.

"Three boobs and four nuts?"

Too much, they decided, knowing that children in their family would be joining the team.

"Walkers for Knockers?"

Perfect. Within two months, they had sold 700 Walkers for Knockers T-shirts, part of a pre-race fundraising drive that collected $10,900 and counting.

"We figured that we needed to do it with humor," Harrington said Saturday before the race. "Because people look at you a different way when you have cancer. People give you that cancer look. And it's horrible. And they feel sorry for you. I don't want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to know that I have breast cancer, which isn't a dirty word. . . . If I have to worry about breast cancer, I am going to do it with a smile, and this team name gives me a smile."

The Walkers for Knockers team, made up of two dozen friends and family members, struck out on the 3.1-mile course. Harrington's sister, Rosanne Howard, 49, who continues to be cancer-free, pushed an empty wheelchair in case Harrington's neuropathy -- brought about by the chemotherapy -- got to be too much for her feet.

Two hours later, Harrington was laboring, with the finish line in sight.

"Are you sure you want to walk?" Howard asked her sister. "We've got the wheelchair."

"No, I have to do this," said Harrington, who did.

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