Women on the run

Sweat and tears raise money to fight breast cancer during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure

Breast cancer survivor Sally de Lipkau helped found the Komen Northern Nevada affiliate.

Breast cancer survivor Sally de Lipkau helped found the Komen Northern Nevada affiliate.

Photo By David Robert

For more information on Komen Northern Nevada, call 355-7311, or visit www.northnvkomen.org

The first year the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation started operating in Reno, Elaine Smith and a friend ran the 5K to support her friend’s mother.

“That was the first person I’d met that had breast cancer,” she says. “The next year, I was a survivor.”

Smith became the team captain for her On With Life support group. But come race day this year on Oct. 7, Smith—the proud mom of a 7-month-old boy—won’t be running. But she’ll still be there to volunteer in the Survivor’s Café.

“Once upon a time, I could introduce myself without an illness or recovery date attached to my name,” says Smith. “Cancer changed that. It changed me, too.”

Smith was diagnosed in 2001 at age 32 and then again in 2004. She had no family history of the disease, and she lived an active, healthy lifestyle. Like so many women, Smith was devastated when she discovered she had the disease. Be it in her role as a wife or a flight attendant, daughter or golfer, her reality had changed with just one doctor’s visit.

“For me, it was just a little bit easier because of my husband,” says Smith. “He’s been really supportive, and it’s made a huge difference. But you’re definitely scared that your cancer is going to come back again.”

Between the mastectomy in the first case and chemotherapy in the second, her body had won the battle against the cancer. But Smith needed a deeper healing, beyond physical: “I needed the mental healing that comes with talking with others who have fought the same fight.”

She joined a small, local support group for breast cancer survivors, and over the past few years has become a vocal and active member of the community and of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Nevada’s largest organization dedicated to helping women fight breast cancer.

This year, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary and changes its name to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The new name reflects a renewed and redoubled effort to not just help those already diagnosed with breast cancer, but also to fund research to find a cure.

Sally de Lipkau was a founding member of the Northern Nevada affiliate and is also a two-time breast cancer survivor.

“I was so lucky to have been detected early,” she says. “I am passionate about spreading the word and supporting those struggling with this disease.”

While 25 percent of all Komen proceeds heads to its national group for research, “75 percent of the money we raise stays in Northern Nevada,” says de Lipkau. Since 2000, more than $1 million has been granted to local programs that aid underserved women in their struggle to fight breast cancer and help to educate women about self-exams.

For 2007-2008 alone, Komen Northern Nevada has provided funding to 13 agencies “providing clinical breast exams, mammograms, ultrasound, follow-up treatment, grocery cards, transportation and lodging costs, insurance co-pays, prescription assistance, educational programs, camisoles, prostheses and lymphedema sleeves,” says de Lipkau.

One of the most visible ways Komen raises these funds is through the annual Race for the Cure. Held at IGT in Reno, this will be the ninth year for the race in Northern Nevada, and more than 4,000 participants are expected. At $30 per person for registration, that puts the organization just a bit closer to their goal of raising another $1 billion in the next 10 years and finding a cure.