Mention Race for the Cure to a group of South Florida residents, and it’s likely to garner a lot of attention.
The event, which will be held on Saturday, Jan. 26 in West Palm Beach, has drawn thousands of individuals living with or supporting those affected by breast cancer each year, and it has raised millions to help combat the disease.
Two women who participate in Race for the Cure each year were also recently selected as part of this year’s Susan G. Komen Florida Warriors in Pink, a national program supported by Ford Motor Company that recognizes breast cancer survivors dedicated to finding a cure and mentoring those affected by the disease.
“A lot of times, when people get diagnosed they’re so overwhelmed when they get the news that they don’t want to talk about it,” said Jupiter resident Pat Maher, one of the 10 women selected as a 2019 Warrior. “My mission is to let people know they’re not alone.”
Kelly Seitz, a Palm Beach Gardens resident and Warrior, agreed. “Part of my reason for being a Warrior is to raise awareness for young survivors because when you’re diagnosed at 30, it’s a lot different than when you’re diagnosed at 50 or 60.”
Seitz, who was diagnosed 11 years ago at age 30, hopes to share her experiences with other young women who may be struggling to find a mentor.
“We’re just showing the many faces of survivorship,” she said of this year’s selected Warriors. “We’re all from different parts of the community, we’re all different ages, we’re all in different stages, and some people are still in treatment. [It’s important] to talk to somebody who is going through the same treatments at the same point in their life because they have the same questions and concerns.”
Maher, who was diagnosed four years ago, agrees. “It’s always good to get a perspective from people who have been there before. Doctors tell you the side effects, but they don’t tell you much else.”
One way in which the women are raising awareness and spending time with other local breast cancer survivors and supporters is through Lighthouse Dragons, a dragon boat racing team that meets at Jupiter Lighthouse for practice three times a week and participates in international events. “Some women haven’t done anything athletic and then they just totally get into it,” Seitz said of the group.
Maher was one of about a dozen Lighthouse Dragon members to travel to Florence, Italy, last year for the IBCPC Participatory Dragon Boat Festival, an event that included 125 teams and more than 4,000 breast cancer survivors. “It was a great experience,” she said of the event, which takes place every four years. “You’re uplifted by people you may not even know; it was amazing.”
Fortunately for South Florida residents affected by breast cancer, one doesn’t need to travel too far to experience similar emotional support. Aside from Race for the Cure and Lighthouse Dragons meetups, the Warriors participate in multiple events and groups across the state, from gatherings at local churches to support meetings coordinated by Susan G. Komen Florida.
“It’s an honor to be nominated, and it’s an honor to be selected,” Maher said of her Warrior status. “For me, it aligns with my message to tell people not to give up hope. It feels right; it feels good.”
For Seitz, being a Warrior means representing Susan G. Komen Florida and spreading the organization’s message. “When you have an organization that can put a pink ribbon on 747s and trains, they’ve put it on the map,” she said. “We are where we are because of Komen. There’s this whole community.”
In fact, more than one million people participate in Susan G. Komen walks and races every year and 75 percent of all funds raised stay in the community in which they were raised. Donations help pay for screenings, treatment assistance services, and clinical trials, among other things. Race for the Cure also increases awareness, celebrates breast cancer survivorship, and honors those who have died from the disease.
“Komen’s slogan for the race this year is, ‘No one walks alone,’” Seitz said of the event, which she participates in as a team captain each year. “It means so much. It’s become one of our favorite things we do each year. We go to breakfast afterward, have bloody marys, and it’s a celebration. It’s not only about the cause, but it’s really about [the teams].”
Still, Race for the Cure is just the beginning of Seitz’s and Maher’s year as Warriors in Pink. Their intention is to share their stories of overcoming breast cancer to support others who may have recently been diagnosed, as well as promote a healthy, active lifestyle to those who interested in joining Lighthouse Dragons. Above all, the women hope to remind those affected by breast cancer to reach out to others.
“Surround yourself with positive people,” Maher said. “You have that option.”
Visit komenflorida.org to register for Race for the Cure.
Visit lighthousedragons.org to learn more about dragon boat racing with Lighthouse Dragons.
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