Focus is on participants, not Komen shakeup, at Race for the Cure

It was hard to stand out among the thousands of brightly garbed people milling outside Union Station Sunday for the annual breast cancer awareness event sponsored by Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, but Mike Smith managed.

While it helped being 6-foot-3, what truly grabbed attention were his pink tights, pink-and-yellow chiffon tutu, hot-pink feathered scarf and rhinestone tiara.

Together, his costume — put together on a Facebook dare — raised several thousand dollars for breast cancer programs. It started with the “Team Connie” page he created on Facebook last spring after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I told people I’d wear a tutu if we got 100 team members or $2,000,” Smith said. “We hit $2,000 and then I said I’d wear pink tights at $3,000, then a tiara at $4,000.

“The last number was $4,425 and I’m sure it’s higher than that. I don’t know where it will end up.”

Looking over the crowd, the Blue Springs resident was impressed with how the 19th annual Komen Race for the Cure had come off. About 21,000 people signed up to participate, more than 1,200 of them breast cancer survivors.

The crowd was smaller than last year’s reported turn-out of more than 25,000 people.

Participation at individual Race for the Cure events has dropped as much as 30 percent since the Komen organization briefly decided to end funding for Planned Parenthood earlier this year, the Associated Press reported. Last week the Komen organization announced leadership changes in the wake of continuing fallout from that decision.

On Sunday, though, the focus was on the efforts of Race for the Cure participants.

“When you look at all this support, this is amazing,” Smith said. “Breast cancer is horrible, but it brought all of us together.”

The race followed a 5,000-meter route through downtown Kansas City on a pleasant, overcast morning. It started at 7:30 a.m. with a few sprinkles and ended with a rally on Pershing Road between Union Station and the base of Liberty Memorial.

The high point may have been when more than 200 breast cancer survivors wearing pink and waving pompoms followed 10 drummers up Pershing to the review stand, where KSHB television anchor Christa Dubill saluted their achievement.

Among them was Melanie Bowman, a cancer survivor who was saluted for volunteer work for Susan G. Komen. She received the organization’s Quilted Northern Soft & Strong honor for her contribution to the Kansas City affiliate.

The Kansas City territory covers 17 counties in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri.

Since 1995, the Kansas City affiliate has raised $11.6 million for breast cancer awareness and support, with $9 million going to local breast health programs including free mammograms and other clinical services for women with little or no insurance; prescription assistance, wigs and support groups.

Bowman, 60, works at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, where she helps students find work.

She said the Komen organization was invaluable to her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Her treatment to date has included a double-mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

“I felt it was a safety net for me,” she said. “I could ask questions, maybe silly questions, but I could ask people who’d been through it themselves. It was really reassuring.”

Impressed, Bowman began volunteering as a Komen ambassador, speaking to groups and counseling other breast cancer patients. One was a former Penn Valley student.

“She was recently diagnosed within the last month or so,” Bowman said. “She called me because she knew I’d gone through this. I was able to be with her when she went to her first doctor’s appointment.

“I was able to help somebody else, the way I received help.”

Bowman said the sight of the friendly crowd outside Union Station the first time she participated in the race “took her breath away.”

Smith, who works at YRC Worldwide, said his wife Connie is doing pretty well after going through chemotherapy and now radiation.

“The support Komen gives her is amazing,” he said.

As for Connie, the Race for a Cure event was an “overwhelming” experience. She was dressed in a yellow Team Connie T-shirt with a bandana covering her head.

“The Komen program is definitely supportive,” she said. “It’s really overwhelming when you’re first diagnosed. You don’t even know what questions to ask.”

And what about her husband’s ballerina-inspired fundraising effort?

“He is a hoot,” she said. “This is his kind of thing. People like to rally around his positive energy.”

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