Four thousand people in one place is a lot. Usually, the only place you see that many people come together is for things like a football game or a concert. They share a common interest — rooting for their team or loving the music. They feed off the excitement of others in the crowd, and that enhances their own experience.
Enter the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure that took place in Bangor on Sept. 15. As a new employee of the Maine affiliate, this was my first Komen race in Bangor. I knew to expect more than 4,000 people, but that number didn’t have any real meaning for me until I took a closer look at what that number really meant. Four thousand people whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. Four thousand stories of hope, survival, loss, joy, support or struggle. Four thousand diverse people from all walks of life, of all ages, hugging, crying, singing, dancing; coming together for a cause that on some level, however large or small, mattered to them. And the pink. A sea of pink on the Bangor waterfront.
We call it the Race for the Cure, but in reality, it is a steady march toward finding a cure. It doesn’t happen in the timeframe of a 5K, but in the meticulous and often plodding research that is funded by Komen. What Komen funds is cutting-edge research with the greatest potential to make a difference and save lives. Research like developing genetic interventions that target the immune systems or creating personalized cancer vaccines. Research that has led to more effective diagnosis and other treatment options.
Komen is the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the world, investing $610 million since 1982 and playing a role in funding every major advance in breast cancer science for the past three decades. This year, 40 percent of Komen’s funding will be invested in projects that seek to understand the underlying origins of breast cancer and why it has the capacity to spread throughout the body. Nearly 22 percent will go toward early detection, and about 20 percent will be invested in new treatments.
Here in Maine, 75 percent of the money we raise stays right here for local grants that provide education, diagnosis and treatment, with the other 25 percent going into the general research fund. But I know that in so many ways, research money finds its way right back here to benefit the women and men in Maine (yes, men can get breast cancer, too) in the way of innovative diagnosis and treatment options that ultimately will save lives.
It is an extraordinary accomplishment that since 1990, the rate of deaths from breast cancer has dropped by one-third. When diagnosed early, the rate of survival over five years is 98 percent.
But when we cite statistics, we can’t forget that there are real people behind these numbers. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, co-workers, friends, lovers, wives and husbands — people who matter to us. And just like the 4,000 who showed up for the race, and hopefully another 4,000 or more who will show up next year, it is not the number that matters, it is the story behind the number.
Phyllis C. Cohn of Portland is a public relations specialist for Susan G. Komen Maine, based in Brewer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more information, visit www.komenmaine.org.