Passionate about Pink: Breast cancer event honors survivors, raises funds as 4,000 turn out

Published on Saturday, 10 May 2014 23:25 - Written by Victor Texcucano vtexcucano@tylerpaper.com

Tyler’s red brick streets turned pink on Saturday morning, as breast cancer survivors and the East Texas community came together for the 16th annual Tyler Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Bergfeld Park.

The event drew more than 4,000 runners and walkers, some with pink hair and pink shoes and all with a lively attitude, as participants had their choices of a 5K race, a 1-mile fun run and a 50-yard kids’ dash.

Proceeds from the race benefit Susan G. Komen, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to breast cancer research, education and prevention.

Kristen McPherson, race co-chairwoman, said 75 percent of money raised would stay in Smith County through free mammograms and breast screenings aimed at detecting breast cancer in its early stages for uninsured and underinsured women.

The remaining money will go to the national organization and will be used for breast cancer research.

Misty Jones, race co-chairwoman, said the organization had set a Tyler Komen record for fundraising even before the race.

She said by pre-race day, more than $39,000 had been raised; and that the fundraising window will stay open until May 31.

Funds have been raised through donations and last weekend’s Dine Out for the Cure at Bruno’s Pizza & Pasta, which served as the kickoff for the Tyler Komen race.

Dr. Sasha Vukelja, oncologist at Texas Oncology, said the Komen race is an inspiring annual event.

“(My favorite part is) when I’m starting the race, to see all the pink shirts ahead of me,” she said. “Because I know that every one of those shirts is either a mother, or a sister or a daughter. I know how many people they affect, and how their life and their cure will affect so many generations.”

Dr. Vukelja, who each year wears a rag-tag, gray, paint-stained shirt from the inaugural Tyler Komen Race in 1999, is a popular participant at the race.

Each year, she takes pictures with all her patients.

“I like to take pictures with as many patients as I can. I print them and give them away when they come see me.”

She also said the annual race is a great metaphor for what women with breast cancer go through.

“Each one of these patients,” she said, “has gone through a race already. This is a race that unifies us all. Each one of them has had a different race. Maybe not that easy, but this race is symbolic, because even though our races are different, we have so much in common. We’re all running toward the same goal.”

Ms. Jones, whose mother suffered from breast cancer, said the programs provided with the money raised are crucial to the community.

“I feel like the education and the research (the programs) provide for women helps to give them a greater chance of detecting and surviving breast cancer,” she said.

Ms. McPherson added that the race in Tyler has always been held the day before Mother’s Day, and that it has become a tradition for many mothers and daughters to run the race together.