By Linda McIntosh
Janis Gabay has been in the San Diego Race for the Cure breast cancer walk ever since she moved here 13 years ago. But this year, she's participating for the second time as a breast cancer survivor.
Gabay will be wearing a pink T-shirt for the walk, along with hundreds of other survivors.
"I've got to do this. I've seen how cancer affects lives. Even if just one person gets early detection as a result of this, it's worth it," said Gabay, a fitness instructor who lives in La Jolla.
More than 13,000 breast cancer survivors and supporters are expected to take part in the Komen San Diego Race for the Cure, a 5K walk/run on Nov. 1 at Balboa Park to raise money and awareness for breast cancer screening, treatment and research. A ceremony will be held before the walk to honor survivors and those who have fought breast cancer. This year's honorary breast cancer survivor is Amanda Nixon, who was diagnosed three years ago when she was 27 years old.
For every dollar raised at the walk, 75 percent goes to help San Diego-area women who can't afford screening or treatment. The remaining 25 percent goes to international breast cancer research through the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity.
"It's the community pulling together for a cause that needs attention," said Mattie Mills, a singer/songwriter from Carmel Valley who was named honorary survivor at the 2007 Race for the Cure in San Diego.
"It used to be a death sentence when you were diagnosed, but now with all the research and cures, we can have a fulfilling life after cancer," said Mills, who co-authored the book, "Forty Schmorty! ... life keeps happening" with Eve Selis.
For many women, the walk is therapeutic.
"It's an incredible experience to see a wave of women in the same pink T-shirt, walking for the same cause," said Catherine Blair, who just passed the second anniversary of her diagnosis.
After years of participating, Blair, a Del Mar resident, still joined the walk the year she was in the middle of radiation treatment.
"It was surreal. You realize it's about you, and not someone else. You look in the faces around you and see how many women this has affected."
One in eight women gets diagnosed with breast cancer, said Blair, a board member of the San Diego affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Since its formation in 1995, the San Diego affiliate has given $8.5 million toward breast cancer screening, diagnostics, treatment, education and patient support for the uninsured or underinsured in San Diego County.
"One big message of the walk is to get a mammogram. The key is early detection — then the chances of survival are big," Blair said.
The first Komen Race for the Cure was held in 1983, a year after Nancy Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of her sister. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan, that she would do all she could to end breast cancer. The first race was held in Dallas and drew 800 participants. Now the series of 5K runs/walks are held in cities across the country and around the world with more than 1 million participants.
The walk not only builds awareness, but also gives survivors a chance to build up one another's morale. Gabay remembered how her mother fought cancer with humor. "It's all in your attitude. You can fold in your bed and cry, 'Why me,' or you can do what you need to do," Gabay said.
Nataly Pluta, a Solana Beach physical therapist and six-year breast cancer survivor, used humor in her team's name: "Putting our breast foot forward."
This is Pluta's fifth year doing the Race for a Cure and seventh year running in the Komen three-day, 60-mile breast cancer walk. She started doing the three-day event in honor of an employee who died of breast cancer. Then Pluta was diagnosed with it, and still did the walk after surgery.
"I'm committed to this because I want to fight for ways to prevent breast cancer, not just cure it," Pluta said.
"Every time I see a little girl cheering for us from the sidelines," said Pluta, "I'm thinking, we're doing this for you — so you can live a life without breast cancer."
2009 Komen San Diego Race for the Cure
When: 8 a.m. Nov. 1
Where: Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado
Information: (858) 573-2760, www.sdkomen.org
Jewish women unite for walk
Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in women, affecting 186,467 in 2005, according to statistics. Jewish women are 13 times more likely than the rest of the population to develop breast cancer. One in 40 women of Ashkenazic descent is at risk.
To help bring awareness to Jewish women, The Jewish Response to Breast Cancer has formed a Jewish Community Race Team, "Chai for Life," which will participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K Walk/Run beginning at 8 a.m. Nov. 1 at Balboa Park.
To sign up, visit sandiego.info-komen.org. For cancer information, visit Jewish Response to Breast Cancer at www.jfssd.org.