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Think pink

More than 24,000 people affected by breast cancer participate in the 15th annual Orange County Race for the Cure Sunday. Organizers are confident they have surpassed $2-million fundraising goal.

September 25, 2006|By Kelly Strodl

A sea of pink flooded the steps of the Pacific Life building in Newport Beach Sunday in a show of strength from pink-clad breast-cancer survivors and their loved ones. "It's power-infusing when you see all the survivors," Santa Ana resident Emily Benes said.

More than 2,000 past breast cancer patients and survivors, including Benes, stood together for a ceremony honoring their struggle at the 15th annual Orange County Race for the Cure at Fashion Island Plaza. A two-year survivor herself, Benes participated in the race long before she was ever diagnosed.

For Benes and others the event evokes a powerful message of hope and education to the public.

One out of every seven women in Orange County will be diagnosed with breast cancer, said Marica Pendjer, president of the Komen Orange County Affiliate. If it's caught early there is a 90% chance of curing it, she added.

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"It's not a death sentence," Pendjer said.

Pendjer's family offers proof of that. Her mother, who was diagnosed 11 years ago with breast cancer and survived, flies out every year with Pendjer's sister and two nieces to support the cause.

The event began at 7:30 a.m. at the Newport Beach Marriott. It drew more than 24,000 women and men afflicted or personally affected by breast cancer.

Split up into several events, there were races for people of varying fitness levels. Families walked together, while international professional runners competed in the morning for a title.

This disease does not only afflict women, Pendjer said.

"Our goal is to get the message out there so we can catch it early and help save lives," Pendjer said.

Many tears were shed between attendants, but not all were grief-stricken.

Many racers had pink memorial signs bearing the names of loved ones who died from the disease pinned to their back.

Fullerton residents John and Judith Milan brought their children and John's sister, Olga McKellar. Together they raised more than $700. John and Olga lost their mother, Connie "Concha" Milan, in 1998 to breast cancer.

"When I pulled up it made me sad to see so many people," McKellar said. "It showed me how many people had been affected by this."

Pendjer wasn't the top fundraiser, but she collected $12,600 for the cause. She wished she had done better.

"I only came in second or third, which means two people out there raised even more than I did," she said.

Seventy-five percent of the money raised on Sunday will go back into the community in the form of grants and support for those living with the disease. The other 25% will go straight into breast cancer research, Pendjer said.

Although it was at times a poignant affair, the race also had its more celebratory moments.

Huntington Beach resident Scotti Davis attended on her 52nd wedding anniversary with her husband Robert Davis and daughter Grace Davis.

"It's absolutely amazing," Scotti Davis said. "The masses are just awe-inspiring. I'm definitely coming back, and with more people next year."

By the end of the race Sunday the goal of $2 million was far surpassed, and pledges are scheduled to keep coming in for the next week, event organizers said. Details on just how much money was raised Sunday were not yet available.

"The more money we raise the more lives we can save," Pendjer said. "Isn't that a terrific thing?"

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