They all have stories. Stories of mothers, aunts, sisters and friends who died of breast cancer. Stories of their own--about survival.
As thousands of walkers and runners from throughout the metropolitan area sign up for this year's National Race for the Cure in downtown Washington on Saturday, we hear some of the stories. And we are reminded that, despite the billions spent on research, there still is no cure for breast cancer.
So, the walkers and runners keep coming. The race continues.
In a sense, Nancy Gallagher, a 55-year-old nurse at Prince George's Hospital Center, is running for her own life. She lost an aunt to breast cancer, and a month ago, Gallagher's 69-year-old sister was diagnosed with it, too.
Gallagher knows that her chances of developing breast cancer are higher than normal, and sometimes, she can't help worrying about it. But she does what she can to protect her health. She examines her own breasts routinely, and she gets regular mammograms.
"As bad as it hurts, I never put it off," Gallagher said of the exam. "My aunt who died was my mother's sister. That's too close a connection to me."
Gallagher plans to join a team of her co-workers from Prince George's Hospital Center in the race. So will Katie Jones, 46, a staff nurse, who will bring along her teenage daughter.
"I just felt the need to do it," said Jones, whose girlfriend discovered a lump recently.
Mary Mangino, 46, a respiratory therapist and a member of the hospital's team, has a story to tell, too. Her mother died of breast cancer 20 years ago, and in the last four years, at least four of Mangino's friends have been diagnosed.
"I didn't worry so much when I was young," Mangino said. "But now that I'm older and have a daughter who's 18, I'm more aware of it. You really think about it when somebody your age is diagnosed."
Somebody like Mangino's co-worker and friend, Grace Tabungar, a 44-year-old nurse, who discovered a lump in her breast last June. "When I felt the lump, it felt suspicious," said Tabungar, who has worked at the hospital since 1987. "I had the nagging feeling it might be cancer."
She was right. But the cancer was in its earliest stage, and as a nurse, Tabungar knew her chances of survival were good. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy and returned to work. "It can happen to anybody," said Tabungar, who had no family history of breast cancer.
The race in Washington will be one of 87 throughout the country to raise money for breast cancer research, education and screening. The event is sponsored by the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, named for a 36-year-old woman who died of breast cancer in 1980. Two years after Komen's death, her sister, Nancy Brinker, started the foundation.
Last year, the Washington race broke the record as the largest 5K Race for the Cure with more than 51,000 participants. About 3,000 of them were breast cancer survivors.
Late registration is still available for a fee of $25, which can be paid at the U.S. Department of Commerce in the first floor lobby, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, from noon to 6:30 p.m. today, tomorrow and Friday. Use the 14th Street entrance. There will be no registration on the day of the race.
Prince George's County residents participate heavily each year. About 400 employees of the Dimensions Healthcare System, which owns Prince George's Hospital Center, already are signed up. The hospital also helped to register hundreds of county residents at booths set up last month at the Target store in Bowie and Starbucks in Greenbelt.
One reason the Prince George's hospital is so enthusiastic about the race is that it has been fortunate enough to get a share of the money raised, which last year totaled $1.8 million. A $60,000 grant from the national foundation helped the hospital pay for a program that offers free mammograms to women who are underinsured or have no insurance.
A woman interested in having a free mammogram at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly needs only a referral from her doctor. To make an appointment, call the Medical Imaging Department at 301-618-3340. If trouble is detected, women can inquire about other programs at the hospital that can cover the costs of follow-up medical care.
"Many times, women think that when a program is free, they don't get the same quality," said Donna Lanier, the hospital's clinical coordinator. "But that is not the case. They get the same screening mammogram as if I went to the doctor."
Women, we've heard this a million times before: Early detection significantly increases the chances of surviving breast cancer, and mammograms offer the best hope of early detection. Yet, we--and we know who we are--still put it off. It hurts, we say. We're too busy. We're not at risk.
Women age 40 and older should have mammograms annually, and women ages 20 to 39 should have the clinical breast exam every three years, according to the American Cancer Society. All women should perform monthly self-examinations.
This year, an estimated 43,300 women and 400 men are expected to die of breast cancer. But countless others will survive and thrive because they discovered their cancer in time.
Their stories should inspire us all.
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md., 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.
CAPTION: Katie Jones, Nancy Gallagher, Mary Mangino and Grace Tabungar are planning to participate in the Race for the Cure on Saturday in Washington.