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Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure raises funds for breast cancer research

ST. PETERSBURG — Wendy Phillips always knew she might get breast cancer one day.

Her mother had it. So did her grandmother.

Still, the 36-year-old New Port Richey woman was caught off guard when she found a lump in her breast early this year.

The diagnosis came on March 3. A few weeks later, Phillips, who does office work at Publix and Home Depot, had surgery to remove her lymph nodes and a lump.

She spent the summer in chemotherapy and is still getting some radiation now.

"I always figured I'd get it," Phillips said. "I just thought I'd be older."

On Saturday, Phillips and her three daughters, 11-year-old twins Madison and Paige and 7-year-old Savanah, walked arm in arm at the Survivor March at Vinoy Park.

It was part of the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, held Saturday in downtown St. Petersburg to raise money for breast cancer research.

The Phillips girls spray-painted their hair pink for the occasion. Their mom went without her usual hat and spray painted her head, too.

"The hardest thing was losing my hair," Phillips admitted, touching her head softly. "I'm not totally comfortable with it yet."

But Phillips said she wanted to show her daughters the work people are doing to find a cure to a disease they too might face one day.

"It's been rough on them," Phillips said. "I came just to make them realize that it's okay, and someday they'll find a cure. … It's good for them to be involved."

This year's event drew 10,000 people, organizers said.

Even broken bones couldn't stop some.

Sporting a pink T-shirt, tiara and a foot brace, Dina McWilliams, 47, of Palm Harbor strode along the downtown route with thousands of other folks. She broke her foot a couple weeks ago, but didn't want to miss the race.

McWilliams is a cervical cancer survivor. She, her husband and a group of work friends get together and participate every year.

"I love all the camaraderie," she said. "Everybody is so great with each other, so supportive."

Clearwater sisters Rolanda Simmons, 39, and Atecia Young, 31, came out in honor of their mother, who got breast cancer seven years ago.

The diagnosis was a shock, Simmons said, especially because there was no family history of it. Simmons said her mother is in remission now.

"My mom is really the rock of the family," Simmons said. "It was really hard for us."

Not all the participants in this year's event had a connection to cancer, however.

Friends Franchelle Rieken, 26, and Jennilee Pino, 29, both of Westchase were drawn to the race itself.

"We just heard about it about three weeks ago," Rieken said after finishing the 5K. "It went really well. I didn't realize it was so big."

Phillips, too, was impressed by the turnout.

She said she hopes it makes her daughters realize there are other people going through the same experience — and many of them are fighting for a cure, too.

"That's the sad part — that it is so common," Phillips said. "It shouldn't be."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure raises funds for breast cancer research 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 8:39pm]
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