Amanda Hibberts sat out the start of the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K run and walk Saturday in uptown Charlotte.
From outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame, she watched as more than 5,000 participants gathered for the 12th annual event that raises awareness and money to fight breast cancer.
A breast cancer survivor for one year, Hibberts, 36, of Gastonia felt a little tired but came out anyway to show her support for others facing the disease. Her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41, and Hibberts decided last year to have a mastectomy to reduce the risk of breast cancer – only to find out she already had the disease.
But doctors were able to remove the noninvasive cancer during surgery.
“Early prevention is my story,” said Hibberts, who had 10 breast reconstruction surgeries last year and has another coming up in December. “Listen to your inner voice and do what’s right for you. I’m not too sick to be here today – and I’m thankful.”
The fight against cancer was a major theme in uptown Charlotte on Saturday. More than 2,500 participants were expected at the North Carolina chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk at BB&T BallPark. The event supports the LLS’ mission to find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
The more than 100 volunteers with the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event began showing up outside the NASCAR Hall of Fame around 4:30 a.m. Within a few hours, the area swirled with pink outfits, pink face painting, pink banners and pink balloons.
“It’s a great day here in Charlotte,” said Nadine Malpass, the American Cancer Society’s senior director of community engagement in North and South Carolina. “And it’s a great day in the fight against breast cancer. “
The 2013 race raised $300,000 and Saturday’s event topped that by $45,000, officials said.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 232,670 women in the United States, including 7,580 in North Carolina, will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2014, and approximately 40,000 will die.
Since 1993, 10 million Making Strides walkers in nearly 300 communities across the U.S. have contributed more than $594 million to the fight against breast cancer.
No longer ashamed
Breast cancer survivor Laura Renegar came to the event in Charlotte with a 320-member team called “Primax Pink Warriors,” made up of family, friends, business associates and other survivors.
In 2008, she’d started with a 12-member team to honor her mother, who died in 1996 after her third battle with breast cancer.
Three years later, Renegar had a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, ovary removal and breast reconstruction.
While it wasn’t easy to cope, she said she had a solid support system – something her mother didn’t have.
Back in the 1990s, breast cancer was “an embarrassment and shame,” Renegar said.
Shortly after Renegar’s diagnosis, she got involved with the American Cancer Society support efforts.
“I decided I wanted to help other women,” she said.
This year the “Primax Pink Warriors” raised $57,000.
‘I feel good’
Six-year survivor Sue Bartow, 70, of Charlotte walked with her daughter, Jenny Guckiean, and granddaughters Sarah, 9, and Lilly, 7.
For her birthday, Lilly asked that instead of gifts, people contribute money toward the Making Strides event. She raised $160.
“It’s exciting to be here,” Bartow said. “The last time I did this was just following radiation, and it was a big struggle. But my energy is back, and I feel good.”
Brian Fisher had walked the 5K course twice before, but brought his wife, Anna, along for the first time on Saturday.
In December 2011, she’d had surgery for breast cancer.
Fisher said he had been inspired by the earlier Making Strides events and hoped his wife would feel the same way.
“I wanted her to experience this,” said Fisher, 46, of Charlotte. “I wanted her to know she’s not alone in this.”
‘You kind of go numb’
As Denise Beal and her husband, William, waited for the 5K walk to begin, she remembered a phone call she got at work nearly four years ago.
Her doctor’s test results were back and she had breast cancer.
“You kind of go numb,” said Beal, 60, of Harrisburg. “I asked a few questions and then called my husband. He was driving, and I told him to pull over, that I had something to tell him.”
She remembered calling their son in Pittsburgh with the news and the silence on the other end of the line. Later, she learned he’d started crying.
All of the memories came back, including the surgery and 35 rounds of radiation.
But that was behind her. On this bright October morning, Beal looked forward to walking the streets of Charlotte.
“I’m a different person,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot. Now, I take each day as it comes and live it as much as I can. Today, I feel great. I’m still here.”