RACE FOR THE CURE: A ribbon runs through it

From Oxford to Fulton, from Corinth to Eupora, breast cancer advocates are linked in pink to the Komen North Mississippi Race for the Cure.
For 12 years on the fourth Saturday in October, the Race for the Cure has circled The Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo. But the individuals and teams who participate come from around North Mississippi beyond.
“On a Saturday morning, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or sunny or 30 degrees, they just show up,” said Paula Turner, local race chairwoman, even if they’ve had to drive more than an hour. “Every time, every year, they’re there at 8 a.m.”
Oxford declared Oct. 1 Komen for the Cure Day. A large pink ribbon stands in front of the city hall, and the Oxford High School football field will soon have pink ribbons in the corners. The members of New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Dorsey are continuing the tradition begun by one of its members lost to breast cancer. And they are just two examples of the many teams participating in the race and
raising money beyond the race fees to contribute to the region.
The money raised through the race is put to work in 15 Northeast Mississippi counties. Out of more than $200,000 given in grants in 2009, nearly $120,000 went to organizations based outside Lee County.
Seventy-five percent of the money from Race for the Cure stays in north Mississippi to fund education and awareness programs and provide mammograms to medically undeserved women.
The remaining 25 percent of the money raised through the race goes to fund the Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fund national research grants.
The group hopes to raise $300,000 with this year’s race, a stretch with the difficult economic times, Turner said.
“It’s tough with the economy the way it is,” Turner said. “But it’s even worse for people who have cancer. … It’s as important now as it ever has been.”
This year, race organizers are hoping to raise enough money so they can start making treatment assistance grants available to women who have no insurance or are underinsured, Turner said. They also are considering expanding to serve three more counties.
People are the key to making that happen.
“We had almost 4,000 last year,” Turner said. “Our goal has always been to break the 4,000 mark. The more people who participate, the more money we raise, the more we can do to help.”

Carrying on
For Tunesha Banks and the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Dorsey, the Race for the Cure is a legacy rooted in the memory of one of their own.
Deborah Banks, Tunesha’s mother and wife of pastor Sparks Banks, first got the church involved in the Race for the Cure when she helped organize a team with the Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District in Booneville in 2001.
“She started it before she was diagnosed with breast cancer,” in 2003, Tunesha Banks said.
The church decided to carry on with its own team after Banks’ death in 2006, and the planning and development district has continued its own team, too.
“All my church thought we should do it in her honor,” Banks said. “Mom didn’t want it to be just for her. We try to include the church family and the community We want to get the word out about breast cancer and to support the fight.”
The race turns into a reunion for the church and the Banks family with people coming in from Birmingham, Huntsville, Ala., Atlanta and even Pennsylvania.
“We love the camaraderie and fellowship,” Tunesha Banks said. “There’s a lot of people we don’t see until that time of year.”
Last year the team had 57 participants; this year they hope to have 75.
“We also like the friendly competition,” Tunesha Banks said. Her father has claimed bragging rights as the first member of the congregation to hit the finish line.
“I’ve been training this year,” Tunesha Banks said.

A mission
Breast cancer survivor Valorie Ott of Oxford burns with a pink fire.
With the help of her Val’s Gals Race for the Cure team and sponsors, she has rallied community support in Oxford.
“I can’t stress enough how positive the community response has been,” Ott said.
In addition to official recognition of Komen for the Cure Day and a giant pink ribbon in front of city hall, she has organized several breast cancer awareness activities at Oxford High School.
“Young women between 15 and 40 are my personal focus,” said Ott, who was diagnosed with aggressive, advanced breast cancer almost three years ago at the age of 38.
Even though this age group is less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, when they are, it tends to be advanced and more aggressive.
“The primary thing is for them to know what is normal for their bodies … if you had a knot on your leg, you would go to the doctor,” Ott said. It should be the same for a knot in your breast.
“We must teach these girls how to be proactive,” she said.
Ott, who has no history of breast cancer, found her cancer with a monthly breast self-exam.
“If I had not found the tumor,” Ott said. “I would have never lived to 40” when annual screening mammograms are recommended.
With the support of her husband, three daughters and parents, Ott spent almost a year fighting her way through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
She got involved with the Komen North Mississippi Race for the Cure in 2008 and formed Val’s Gals team to mark the one-year anniversary of being cancer-free.
“I wanted to do something to celebrate,” said Ott, who later joined the race affiliate’s board of directors. “It’s an opportunity for people to take an awful experience and turn it into something beneficial. It’s a joyful moment. … All the negative energy becomes positive”

Special recognition for breast cancer survivors
• Celebrate Life Survivor Luncheon
Noon, Oct. 22
Harrisburg Baptist Church
Free to breast cancer survivors; guest tickets available for $10.
Advance registration requested: Call (662) 377-4903 or 1-800-843-3375.
Survivors also will be able to pick up race packets at lunch.
• At the Race
Survivors registered for the Race for the Cure receive a free pink cap. Please sign in at breast cancer survivors tent sponsored by Zeta Tau Alpha.
Survivor group photo will be taken at 7 a.m. before the Oct. 24 race. Complimentary copies of the photo will be available at the Survivor Tent following the award ceremony.

Komen North Mississippi Race for the Cure
Race starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 24 at The Mall at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo.
Fees: $20 in advance for 1-mile fun run, unscored 5K and phantom runners;
$25 for the 5K with electronic scoring with chip device
Race day registration, $30 for 1-mile fun run and 5K; no timing chips will be available for those who register race day.
While supplies last, registered participants will receive a high-quality, 100 percent cotton, long-sleeve Komen North Mississippi Race for the Cure T-shirt.
All registered participants will be eligible to win door prizes, including one round-trip ticket for travel on American Airlines or American Eagle to anywhere in the 48 contiguous states, compliments of American Airlines.

Where to register
Individuals and teams can register online at www.msraceforthecure.org.
In-person registration is available at North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Centers in Baldwyn, Iuka, Pontotoc, Tupelo and West Point. Entry forms are also available at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar, NMMC Cancer Center and Women’s Hospital in Tupelo, and the Komen Race Headquarters located at 1016 N. Gloster St.

More info
www.msraceforthecure.org.
(662) 377-4903 or 1-800-THE DESK (1-800-843-3375).
Race day volunteers: (662) 377-3867.
Be a friend: Komen North Mississippi Race for the Cure is also on Facebook.

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal