- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

When Shawn Gardner leads Team Heather on a 5-kilometer race today, he won’t be trying to win a competition, but to fulfill a promise.

Before his 26-year-old sister Heather Starcher died of breast cancer in 2002, he promised her he would do everything he could to find a cure for the disease that took her life.

Now he’s on a crusade to keep his promise, and today the nearly 100-member team named for his sister will participate in the 18th annual Susan G. Komen National Race for the Cure to raise money and awareness for breast cancer treatment and prevention.

“It’s a way that I can make what Heather went through matter,” he said yesterday.

As many as 50,000 people are expected to walk and run around the National Mall for the race, which marks the 25th anniversary of the organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure. By the end of the year, the organization will have invested nearly $1 billion in breast cancer research and prevention.

Those participating hope the money they raise will help to one day find a cure for the disease. Cindy Schneible, vice president of Komen, said the group expects to raise more than $3.5 million today. At least $1 million will go to breast cancer education, screening and treatment programs in the D.C. area, where the rate of breast cancer mortality is higher than in any state in the nation, she said.

That statistic means there is a “huge need and huge opportunity” in the area, she said.

“Our goal is to bring an end to breast cancer,” she said. “We’re very committed to ensuring access to care for all.”

The activities today include a pre-race rally, a “Parade of Pink,” and a post-race celebration featuring singer Patti Austin.

Mr. Gardner, 39, was named “Co-survivor of the Year” by Komen this year. He has raised nearly $150,000 for the organization through Team Heather, which has participated in the race every year since his sister’s death.

“It started out as a way to remember her, but I think now it’s transformed into a way to allow her story to affect others in a positive way,” he said.

His sister was diagnosed while she was engaged to be married and died just five months after her wedding. She and her husband celebrated every month’s anniversary as if it were a year, he said.

As many as 3,000 breast cancer survivors will take part in the race, and Rana Kahl is one of them. Mrs. Kahl, 40, was diagnosed on her 33rd birthday in 2000.

Doctors told her that she would never have children, but today she has two young boys and is celebrating seven cancer-free years.

She credits the worked of Susan G. Komen for the Cure with saving her life.

“My story gets to be so great because of the work that Komen has done to complete all this research,” she said.

The race and events surrounding it are inspiring for those who have overcome the disease, she said.

“The Parade of Pink is one of the most profound, overwhelming and awe-inspiring events I’ve ever attended because it represents the incredible strength and spirit of these women and men who have gone through breast cancer and have made it out OK,” she said. “When you put all these people together who have gone through this kind of journey, … there’s a certain kind of survivorship sisterhood.”

She said she hopes one day the race will be obsolete, when a cure for breast cancer is discovered, but until then she’ll continue participating every year.

“As a survivor, I don’t think there’s anything that’s empowered me more than this,” she said.

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