DEL MAR — More than 4,000 participants gathered at the fairgrounds in the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 19 for the kick-off of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. Another 1,500 supporters and crewmembers bustled about as the crowd swelled and the enthusiasm mounted despite looming clouds.
Several participants have made the annual 60-mile journey to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer in the past. Since 2008, the Hakuna Ma Ta-Tas team has walked 20 miles for three consecutive days. Amber Taylor said the reasons were simple. “We walk for research to eradicate cancer from the planet,” she said. One of the team’s members, Carol Otjens, is a four-year cancer survivor. “We walk so other people don’t go through the crap our families went through,” she declared. Her husband, Mark, was walking with the team for the first time.
Aimee Patten, who has participated in seven walks, and two newcomers, joined Sarah Simpson, a nine-year veteran of the walk to round out the Cruisin’ 4 Cupcakes team. “I walk so my nieces won’t have to deal with it (breast cancer),” Patten said emphatically.
Other participants gave similarly determined reasons for joining the walk. “We’ve all been personally affected by cancer in some way,” Roseana Espinoza said. “We walk so our kids won’t have to.”
Gary Hillquist traveled from Elgin, Ill., to walk with his daughters, Jennifer and Laurie, in memory of his wife Nancy who was one of the 465,000 people to die of breast cancer last year. “It’s an emotionally charged day,” Hillquist said as he held back tears.
While the crowd was upbeat during the opening ceremony, the facts about breast cancer remain sobering. According to the organization’s own statistics, incidence rates of the disease are increasing 5 percent annually in developing countries; a woman dies from breast cancer every 69 seconds; and more than 1.3 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer globally each year.
Yet, survivors of breast cancer stood humbly amongst the crowd and proclaimed that the walk was about the people behind the statistics. “I’m not a number,” said Beverly Combs, a six-year breast-cancer survivor. “My family, my friends helped me to see that I could beat this (cancer) and I will walk every walk to show them how grateful I am for their support,” she said.
Combs, like many of the participants, trained for months in preparation for the walk. Each of the three days during the event, participants walked 20 miles culminating at Petco Park in San Diego on Nov. 21. The rain soaked many walkers on the second and third days but did not deter their spirits. “I don’t care if it floods,” said Sheila Price as she discussed the weather report with her teammates. “We’ve been through worse than a few rain drops, honey. This will be a piece of cake compared to chemo.”