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Orange County

30,000 Put Their Foot Down on Cancer

September 23, 2002|JENNIFER MENA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly 2,000 breast cancer survivors held their red roses high in an emotional ceremony Sunday morning that capped the 11th annual Komen Orange County Race for the Cure.

Wearing pink T-shirts and choking back tears, they embraced as speakers honored their bravery. The survivors were among some 30,000 people who participated in the 5K run and walk, a health and fitness expo and a survivor tribute Sunday.

"These women had to fight for their lives," said Cathleen Brier, an event organizer and survivor. "These women are ... champions, warriors and lovers of life."

Organizers say the Orange County event will raise up to $1.6 million for cancer research. Exact figures were not available Sunday. The event is held in 115 other locations during the year and has raised $450 million since its inception in 1982. It is named after Susan G. Komen, a mother of two in Peoria, Ill., who died of breast cancer.

Among the 5K race winners were Carlien Cornelissen, 30, with a time of 16 minutes, 58 seconds. In the cancer-survivor category, Caroline McAndrews was the fastest, with a time of 20 minutes, 42 seconds.

Many of the runners and walkers in the Orange County event were members of large teams, including 648 people from Albertsons and Sav-On Drugs, 610 from Hoag Cancer Center and about 560 each from the U.S. Postal Service and Garden Grove Unified School District.

Survivor Julie Weldon, 39, of Toluca Lake was among 100 people on the Audrey's Angels team, organized by fellow survivor Audrey Bierman.

"I'm glad to be here with my own hair," said Weldon, who regrew hers after six months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation. "It's encouraging. Sometimes you feel like you're on an island, and here there's comfort knowing you are not alone."

Four Orange County artists allowed survivors to add to their half-completed paintings. The images will be made into cards and sold to raise money for organizing other events during next year's race.

Maria Lee, 51, of San Juan Capistrano was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2001 and began feeling better only two weeks ago. On Sunday, she walked in the event and also took a whirl at painting.

"The event makes survivors feel so special," Lee said. "Now we get to [paint] and leave something special behind."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) was on hand to show support.

"One person with breast cancer is one too many," Sanchez said. "Breast cancer, if detected, is one of the easiest cancers to rescind. It's all about getting the information out."

This year in Orange County, about 1,785 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed and 350 people will die of it, according to event organizers. A woman's chance of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 200 by age 40, 1 in 50 by age 50 and 1 in 25 by age 60.

Several survivors said they learned of their cancers only after badgering doctors about unusual changes they had noticed during breast self-exams.

Janine McMillion of Huntington Beach was diagnosed when she was 29, just as she was getting married and finishing law school.

"It was like someone put a brick wall in front of me and said, 'Get through it,' " she said. She passed the bar exam despite the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.

But McMillion, now 35, says that, had she not insisted that doctors order more tests, "I'd be dead right now."

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