The 21st Annual Susan G. Komen Triangle Race for the Cure was more personal than others for Pam Kohl, executive director of the organization that fights against breast cancer, celebrates survivors and honors those who have lost their battle to the disease.
On Saturday, May 6, Kohl shared with the thousands of 5K runners and walkers and their supporters that she had to tell the event’s planning committee in January that her breast cancer had recurred and that she is now diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
“That means I am a Forever Fighter,” Kohl said to cheers from the crowd gathered at The Frontier in Durham’s Research Triangle Park early Saturday. “There are women out here that I know who are six years, eight years, 10 years out.
Kohl said the breast cancer survivor rate continues to improve thanks to researchers who are funded and supported by Komen.
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She said being a cancer survivor and working for Komen is both a blessing and a curse.
“I am so lucky to work at Komen, especially now because I know enough to be hopeful, and it’s hard to work for Komen because I know enough to be a little scared also,” Kohl said. “But, when I look out there and I see all of you, 26-, 28-, 40-year survivors, it gives us all hope.”
Kohl’s comments followed the annual Survivor Celebration featuring hundreds of breast cancer survivors who strutted, danced and sang in celebration of life as supporters cheered, snapped photos and recorded video of the event that was well on its way to meeting its fund raising goal of $1 million by 9 a.m.
Rich Lewis, the winner of the event’s “Co-Survivor Award,” attended the race with wife Marge Morena who nominated Lewis for the award.
“It’s overwhelming,” Lewis said of winning the award. “It’s just what you do. It’s not just her going through it. It’s all of us.”
Morena, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2015, shared that Lewis cooked, cleaned and maintained their home so that she could focus on healing.
“He’s amazing,” Morena said, looking at Lewis. “I always expected [his support]. He was there for me every step of the way. The week after I was diagnosed with breast cancer I lost my 93-year-old mother and he was there every step of the way for me and never stopped. He just never stopped doing.”
Morena said her health is great now.
“All of my surgeries are done, I’m healthy and we just got back from a trip from Cancun,” Morena said.
Kate Payne, 31, the winner of the “More Than Pink Survivor Award,” given to someone who is making a difference in the fight against cancer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016, seven weeks before her wedding.
She and her husband Luke postponed their honeymoon so that she could have a double mastectomy three days after they were married.
“We put off our honeymoon and at the end of May  I had a double mastectomy and was cancer free,” Kate said. “Since then, I’ve done reconstruction and we’re going on our honeymoon in June.”
Kate said the 5K Komen race/walk means the “world” to her.
“It’s a day to pause and celebrate,” Kate said. “Breast cancer is such a challenging diagnosis. It’s different for everyone, but to come out one day and see everyone in one place working to get rid of it and to see how far we’ve come, to see survivors of 30-plus years, it’s incredible.”
Kimberly Blackwell, professor of medicine and co-director of Women’s Cancer Programs at the Duke Cancer Institute and a Komen Research Scholar, said Komen’s goal to reduce deaths due to breast cancer by 50 percent by 2026 is achievable.
“In 10 years, I think it’s very realistic, mainly because we’re focusing on early detection and prevention of breast cancer,” Blackwell said. “The other thing that we’re looking at is why certain women are at very high risk of breast cancer, including African-American women who are at high risk of a very aggressive form of breast cancer.”
Blackwell said cancer doctors are also targeting women who are in those high risk categories so they can intervene to make an impact on the death rate.
State Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, received the “Jane Mosely Award” given to an individual who has made a signficant contribution in the fight against breast cancer.
The annual Race for the Cure is the biggest fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation's Triangle to the Coast chapter, and raised more than $800,000 last year.
This year the race drew more than 6,000 people and had raised more than $800,000 toward its $1 million goal by 9 a.m.
Seventy-five percent of the net funds raised stays in the local community to support breast health education, screening, treatment and programs for women and families in a 29-county service area.
The remaining twenty-five percent supports Susan G. Komen’s national research program.
The RTP came a live with music, dance and food as thousands of people, many wearing pink, gathered for the race, tailgate party and other events.
Just before the race/walk, participants and supporters were treated to a flyover by the Bandit Flight team from Raleigh. The wives of two of the pilots have battled breast cancer.
This year, the race was moved from June to May in an attempt to take advantage of cooler temperatures, and the weather cooperated with temperatures in the low 50s early Saturday.
“Did we deliver on the coolest race ever?” Kohl asked the crowd.