CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The streets of uptown Charlotte flooded pink early Saturday for the 16th annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
More than 16,000 people registered in this year’s race, a slight decrease from last year’s event, said Rachel McGrath, spokeswoman for Komen Charlotte.
Low participation numbers surprised the Charlotte Komen chapter, which expected a record turnout at the race, McGrath said. Komen races across the nation, now including Charlotte, are seeing dips in participation levels.
McGrath did not identify a reason why the numbers were lower.
But the Komen agency is still recovering from intense criticism that followed its February decision to cut future grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, even though the organization reversed its decision a few days later. Komen leaders in other cities have blamed the economy in part for the drop-off in participation.
“Given the national trends, we are still excited at the numbers,” McGrath said. About 24,000 people attended Charlotte’s event.
Amy Patwa arrived at Marshall Park for the race just before 6 a.m. and attended the survivors’ breakfast that kicked off morning festivities.
Patwa has Stage 4 breast cancer and has battled the disease for two years. She said she first noticed a hard mass in her right breast while nursing her then-6-month-old daughter.
“I thought it was an infection, so I wrote it off,” Patwa said.
Later in the year, when the mass didn’t go away, Patwa went to her doctor for an ultrasound. “I was sitting in the dressing room (at the doctor’s office), reading a lady’s story about breast cancer. At that moment, it hit me that I was in a place where women go to find out if they have cancer.”
In June 2010, Patwa was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. “I was calm, in a weird way,” she said. Today, she thrives on support from family and friends. About 70 individuals were part of “Team Patwa” at the Race for the Cure.
“It feels amazing and it’s humbling just to know they woke up early to walk with me,” Patwa said. “It’s unreal.”
Buildings such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Duke Energy tower were glowing with pink lights by 5:30 a.m., showing support for the cause. Dogs with glittery feather boas, women with pink mohawks, men in hot-pink zebra striped socks, and neon tutus were the norm in Marshall Park on race day.
As of late Saturday morning, the race had raised $1.1 million, but hopes to match last year’s $1.6 million raised to support local breast cancer research and awareness, McGrath said. Participants have three more weeks to meet that goal.
Komen Charlotte also hopes to match last year’s grant of $1.4 million donated to 27 area nonprofits for mammograms, screenings, treatment and breast health education, McGrath said.
“Everyone is affected by breast cancer. It may not be you. It may not be your wife,” McGrath said. “But it could be your daughter, your mother, your neighbor or your friend. One in 8 women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. That means that you will experience it at some point.”
Race participant Mary Short of Charlotte is a 26-year survivor. Short’s daughter and cousin walked with her in the race.
The 59-year-old said she attended regularly-scheduled mammograms, but one year, she noticed a spot on her breast that felt like a stone.
“It was a scary moment,” she said. Short went to her doctor to confirm her fears.
“After he felt the spot, I walked right out of his office,” said Short, composing herself for the news. “But then I walked back in and he said I was in the early stage of breast cancer and we could get rid of it.”
Now cancer free, she encourages people to perform self breast exams and to routinely have mammograms.
Jackie Fries of Midland echoed Short’s advice, recommending every woman be diligent in having breast exams.
Fries was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2008 and underwent a double mastectomy in April 2009, she said.
“I felt a lump and let it go way too long,” she said. “You should get mammograms every year.”
She also advises women to take someone along during doctor appointments. “It’s scary to hear that kind of news and you should take somebody with you,” Fries said.
Her battle with breast cancer has made her stronger, she said, and renewed her zest to fight for life.