- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

A personal battle with breast cancer brought Robin McNeal, of Bowie, yesterday to the 2005 Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation National Race for the Cure.

“I went through four surgeries, chemotherapy and two radiation series before all of the cancer was removed,” said Mrs. McNeal, a 50-year-old mother of three who was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer at 42.

Two mastectomies later, Mrs. McNeal attended the race along the Mall, where she joined supporters, friends, families and 3,700 other survivors.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death of women from 35 to 54 years of age. Of the 1,500 men diagnosed with breast cancer since 2001, 400 have died, according to the foundation.

“When I was first diagnosed, I went into a deep depression and then my husband said, ‘You can’t leave me,’…” she recalled. “He refused to let me give up, and he told me that we would fight this together. You know, once you go through this type of experience, and you see death knocking at your door — it changes you forever. You’re never the same.”

Her husband, Brian, ran for his wife in the early-morning race and attended the Parade of Pink, a special ceremony led by Nancy Brinker, who established the Komen foundation to celebrate survivors and to remember those who have died. Survivors donned pink T-shirts and hot-pink caps to symbolize their victory over the disease.

When Mrs. Brinker’s sister, Suzy Komen, died of breast cancer at age 36 in 1980, she promised to fulfill her sister’s plea to help others. Two years later, she established the foundation, and in 1983, the race, the largest series of 5K run-fitness walks in the world.

“We are seeing real fruit from the seeds, not only in research, but in the community,” she said. “You cannot eradicate a disease in a lab. …We’re proud of the culture and what we are doing in the community. We’ve got to keep the volume turned up. We cannot quiet our voices or for one moment stop running this race.”

Janice H. Wright, a survivor of 24 years, gladly gave up her Saturday morning for the cause. Ms. Wright, 65, of Northwest, has supported the race for more than 10 years and will continue to do so.

“For the past three years, it’s rained, but I still come out to participate,” she said.

The District has the highest breast-cancer mortality rate in the United States.

The event, with about 50,000 participants, raised $2.8 million for breast-cancer research, education, screening and treatment programs. More than $1 million will support local efforts.

Ms. Wright was 41 when diagnosed with breast cancer. She wanted a second opinion and was referred to Dr. Jack White, now deceased, then head of the oncology department at Howard University Hospital in Northwest.

“The key is early detection,” she said. “I had a mastectomy and chose not to have reconstructive surgery. The Lord has healed me.”

Today, Ms. Wright continues to put her trust in God, but now puts her health in the hands of Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., chairman of the board of the Komen Foundation and the Charles Drew professor of surgery at Howard.

“When you see the Parade of Pink — women wearing pink T-shirts representing survivorship, this shows that this disease can be defeated,” said Dr. Leffall, a keynote speaker during the post-race program.

“My primary focus has been breast cancer, and that’s how I got involved with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. … From the very beginning, Nancy Brinker said she wanted to be involved with everybody. We now have an African American committee, a Hispanic committee and an Asian committee. We want to be sure to address specific issues in all of these communities.”

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