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Columbia’s Walk for Life: New race, new course, one mission

Participants in a past Walk for Life.
Participants in a past Walk for Life. File photo/The State

When flooding struck Columbia last October, Palmetto Health Foundation was just two weeks away from hosting its 25th annual Walk for Life.

The annual fundraising event to fight breast cancer – which included a 5K walk and 5K and 10K races – was on track to have one of its biggest years ever, building on 2014’s success of 11,000 participants and more than $814,000 raised. Cumulatively, the event has raised over $8 million toward that cause since its inaugural walk in 1991.

But after the devastating floods, there was no question that first responders and law enforcement personnel needed to keep their focus on helping the city recover. The decision was made to postpone Walk for Life until Jan. 9 of this year – one that, in the end, meant fewer participants and funds raised for the Palmetto Health Breast Center.

“So many areas of our community were compromised and so many people were in need,” said Ashley Dusenbury, assistant vice president of public relations for Palmetto Health Foundation. “Our community was really hurting and we realized there were more important, more pressing things to focus on at that time. We decided it was just best to hit the pause button and move the event.”

But the event is back this October – National Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and not only features a new course that highlights some of the city’s flood recovery but includes a new event, the Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon.

“In looking at the popular distances, our staff realized that by adding a half marathon we could potentially attract participants from throughout the Southeast and beyond,” said Samuel Tenenbaum, president of the Palmetto Health Foundation. “So far, we have runners coming in from about a dozen other states. Our main goal with this event is to support Palmetto Health Breast Center as best we can and with the new Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon, we believe we’ll see real growth in participation and funds raised.”

There’s a new home base on the Oct. 22 race day, too, in Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies. The half marathon begins here and winds through historic neighborhoods and landmarks.

Just before mile six, runners will arrive at Riverfront Park – hard hit by the floods – and will run for about 2.5 miles along the Columbia Canal with a view of the dam. After a brief stretch on a gravel road, runners will take to other downtown neighborhoods around Earlewood and Elmwood before heading back toward Spirit Communications Park, where the finish line awaits inside.

“We wanted to showcase the community’s most historic areas and some of the areas that were hardest hit by the floods,” Dusenbury said. “We were really intentional with some of the areas we were going to make part of the route especially Riverfront Park. We waited for that particular area to be approved to take our runners through and we finally got the blessing that the park was ready to open back up so we added it into the route.

“Now we get to take people through that area that was so devastated by the flood and show people the amazing recovery of that area and the other areas along the route. We want people in the race – whether they are local or from one of the 12 states represented by the registrants so far – to pause for a moment and reflect on where we were this time last year and recognize how much our city has recovered from that point.”

To commemorate the event, Palmetto Health Foundation partnered with ByFarr Design for a finisher’s medal specifically for the half marathon. Another local artist, Josh Rainwater with That Rainwater design and video company in Columbia, illustrated the marathon race route map, making it a work of art that highlights areas of interest along the route, which was certified by local race certifier Ken Lowden.

As has been the case for the previous 25 years, proceeds from the race stay benefit the Palmetto Health Breast Center and help fund medical advancements at the Breast Center’s four locations: at Baptist, Baptist Parkridge, Richland and through the Mobile Mammography center. This year’s proceeds will help purchase a new 3D digital mammography machine for the Breast Center at Baptist.

“When someone signs up to do this event we consider them an investor in Palmetto Health Breast Center and we are very specific in telling them what the money will be used for,” Dusenbury said. “It’s one thing to give money for a cause. It’s another to know that all of your money stays right here in the community.”

5 facts about breast cancer

▪ Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women.

▪ There will be an estimated 246,660 U.S. women diagnosed with breast cancer and 2,600 men diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

▪ An estimated 40,890 breast cancer deaths (40,450 women; 440 men) are expected in 2016.

▪ Breast cancer ranks second as a cause of cancer death in women.

▪ In South Carolina, there will be an estimated 4,010 women diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

SOURCE: American Cancer Society

3 faces of survival

Here, three women diagnosed with breast cancer and their stories of treatment and survival at Palmetto Health Breast Center:

Beth Harris

At 33, Beth Harris’ life was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had no family history.

In the years to follow, Beth endured eight rounds of chemotherapy, 35 radiation treatments and seven surgeries. Through the hope, love and faith of her community, she had the support to fight the cancer.

“My nurse navigator at Palmetto Health Breast Center connected me with other local survivors who gave me additional support,” Harris said.

For the past eight years, Harris has been giving back to help others in the fight. She is a member of the 26th Walk for Life and Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon volunteer committee.

Emily Long

After a baseline mammogram at 36, Emily Long had a biopsy and was told she had breast cancer. The reaction was immediate, with a call the next morning. .

“My nurse navigator calmly explained my next steps and answered questions,” she said. “I can’t imagine where I’d be today if it weren’t for Palmetto Health Breast Cancer Center and all the resources they had to offer.”

Today, Long gives back as the chair of the 2016 Walk for Life committee.

Bhavna Vasudeva

After finding a lump in her left breast, Bhavna Vasudeva saw her OB/GYN who referred her to Palmetto Health Breast Center for an ultrasound that showed two tumors in her left breast.

A biopsy was immediately performed and markers were inserted for future treatment. Vasudeva’s cancer was caught early and contained to her left breast. Her treatment consisted of a bi-lateral mastectomy and multiple rounds of chemotherapy in the months following diagnosis.

Though a difficult road to travel, Vasudeva maintained a positive outlook.

“The hardest things in my life have always brought me the most joy in the end,” Vasudeva said.

Sign up to participate

When: Saturday, Oct. 22

Where: Start and finish at Spirit Communications Park stadium

Worth noting: There’s a new half marathon (with a specially designed finisher’s medal cast in rose gold with notable Columbia landmarks), along with a 3.1-mile walk and 5K and 10K runs. It’s one of the city’s largest fundraising walk/run events.

Signup: http://events.palmettohealthfoundation.org

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