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With Good Cause to Run

September 29, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

To breast cancer survivor Renee Ryan, aging is a good thing.

When the Mission Viejo woman's illness was diagnosed six years ago, she thought life was over, that her two young daughters would grow up without a mother.

But with the support of friends, family and other cancer survivors like the thousands surrounding her Sunday morning at the Orange County Race for the Cure, Ryan has learned to treasure each day.

"Cancer is not a death sentence," said Ryan, 40, after the ceremony honoring breast cancer survivors. "Anything I can do to help people recognize that means a lot."

Beneath overcast skies and shrouded by a bracing mist, about 25,000 people ran through the streets near Newport Beach's Fashion Island during the day's five races. Event organizers hoped to raise $1.5 million from the event for cancer research and breast health and cancer outreach programs.

Attendees' T-shirts and shorts resembled typical running attire until they turned around, revealing square pieces of pink paper on their backs with the names of those being memorialized by their participation.

"Jane! Great Friend," read one. Countless people wrote "My Wife" or "My Mother." "My Right Breast," read one tongue-in-cheek notice.

During the survivor ceremony, women in pink T-shirts and baseball caps waved carnations and those watching wiped away tears as they remembered loved ones lost to the disease. Ryan cried, too, thinking about her sister who died of ovarian cancer seven months ago.

But it's essential to find hope amid the sadness, she said, gazing at her daughters, 11-year-old Rebecca and 8-year-old Sarah. Also key, she said, is having fun, like jazzing up her race-day outfit with silly pink accessories: a sequined fanny pack, a boa around her waist, and a headband ornamented with wiggling, spring-mounted pieces of fluff.

"We try to lighten the mood," Ryan said. "If you can't laugh and see the humor in things, then what's the point of living?"

Like Ryan, 12-year survivor Jane Hill uses humor to cope with her cancer. During her speech at the survivor ceremony, the crowd rocked with laughter as she described the time her prosthesis floated away in a swimming pool.

Then she switched to a more serious tone, describing the renewed preciousness with which survivors view life.

"Survivors see each day and each year as a gift," said Hill, 52, of Santa Ana. For many cancer survivors, healing begins on the steps of the Pacific Life Building, where the ceremony is held each year.

Dubbing her fellow survivors "warriors," Hill said their participation in the annual event proves there is life beyond breast cancer.

"You can't control what happens in life, but you can control your attitude," she said. "I wake up each morning and know I'm lucky to be here, and I take advantage of it."

The search for a cure keeps Hill, Ryan and the thousands of other participants coming back year after year, they said.

"When I was diagnosed, I thought that was it, I was gone," Ryan said. "But now that I've realized how much strength I have, I want to use it to try to save others from this fate."

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