They came in with oversized pink balloons, frilly tutus, Trinidad-styled Carnival costumes and the synaptic shaking pulse of electronic dance music.
Add tens of thousands of runners and walkers, and more than 1,000 breast cancer survivors who were honored in a moving ceremony.
Put it all together and it was hard to imagine anything but joy lining the 3.1-mile Susan G. Komen 21st annual Miami/Fort Lauderdale Race for the Cure course.
The event, which raises awareness and research funding for the fight against breast cancer, took place in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park on Saturday morning.
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But, underneath all the pink roses and dancing hands that swayed in a mass Zumba class, there were stories of grief, strife and — most of all — perseverance from the survivors.
Healing is 10 percent medicine but 90 percent attitude. I’m not saying it works 100 percent of the time, but it sure helps to have a good attitude.
Pamela Moreno, a four-year breast cancer survivor honored at the 21st Susan G. Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale Race for the Cure.
Kim Bonomo, 63, has been a survivor of breast cancer for 11 years. The diagnosis affects the whole family, she said.
“It’s important to take back our lives,” Bonomo said.
Walks and races like the Race for the Cure help survivors get back to normalcy, she said. “We recognize that doctors saved our lives but it’s organizations like this that are saving our spirit.”
I can’t tell you the number of women who call me in confidence that they are going through breast cancer. Why are you keeping this a secret? Tell people. Get a support system. I live kind of a loud life.
Carla Hill, a nine-year breast cancer survivor honored at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Before the start of the 5K timed run and the 5K walk/run, the event honored survivors with a colorful procession and survivor ceremony.
Among those honored, Pamela Moreno — a stay-at-home mom of two sons, Jonathan and Jordan, and wife to Julio Moreno. A four-year survivor of stage three breast cancer, Moreno weathered an aggressive treatment plan that included eight rounds of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of radiation, a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery.
At the same time in 2012, Molly, her 12-year-old Boston Terrier, went through cancer, too. Both are survivors.
“My baby girl,” Moreno, 48, said. “She is a tough cookie. Like me. Through my entire time, when I was doing chemo, she would stay in my room. Sometimes I’d be in bed for three or four days and she would refuse to leave the room until I left the room. She’s the kids’ dog but she’s definitely my little girl.”
The survivors’ tales are heartening. Moreno’s message to other women and men who are braving breast cancer: “Healing is 10 percent medicine but 90 percent attitude.
“I’m not saying it works 100 percent of the time, but it sure helps to have a good attitude,” Moreno added. “I can’t tell you all it will be a bed of roses. It’s going to suck and be a hard road. But if we do the races we are bringing awareness to people that we can survive this. Even without having a cure now, our goal is to get enough money and enough research that maybe we can find a cure.”
Carla Hill, 44, was also among the honorees. A descendant of Trinidad and Tobago heritage, she grew up a “fashion gal” who cut out pictures from Elle and Vogue. “I was like Sheila E. living the ‘Glamorous Life.’” She brought the colors of Carnival to Miami’s run.
A nine-year survivor, Hill lost her right breast to cancer in 2005 and left breast in 2007. She previously had an unrelated kidney transplant in 2000. She still plays up her flair for fashion. Hill simply accessorizes around her new normal. “I’m a work in progress,” she said. “I call it a second adolescence.”
Hill, whose mother Hazel is a 20-year cancer survivor, won’t lie. She is “one of the faces of warriors for Susan G. Komen this year” but October often brings what she calls “medical anxiety” and its swirl of emotions.
“I want women to know I sit down and cry and am upset and my feet are swollen and I’m getting gout and it’s just one of those days like that children’s book, ‘Alexander and the the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.’ But I feel we need to manage those emotions. We need to recognize it as depression or anxiety and get help. I try to tell people I’m grateful,” Hill said, adding that her husband Marlon Hill, a college sweetheart from Florida State University, has been a pillar of support.
Hill also aims to change perceptions in her community. “As a black woman I think we’re starting to get a little more buzz about mental health. You go to the gym and there’s a great conversation that is happening. For many years this was a stigma. In Trinidad and Tobago, that is something they didn’t talk about. I love being the voice in my community — this is what my struggle is —because ultimately it is someone else’s too.”
Ruth Bernstein, 28, meanwhile, wore a cape in memory of someone she lost to breast cancer. Her dedication read: “My mom, a bad-ass lady.” This is Bernstein’s first time racing the Komen in five years since her mother died of breast cancer.
“We used to run it together,” the University of Miami Ph.D. student in child psychology said.
Cheryl Stopnick, spokesperson for Komen Miami/Fort Lauderdale, estimated the event raised more than $1 million Saturday, with more to come through Nov. 28.
Passing showers didn’t dull spirits. “One of the survivors said, ‘We are a lot tougher than raindrops in Miami,’” Stopnick said. “There was a lot of affection and respect and honor for those who have been battling this disease.”
▪ In the timed race, Joshua Estrada came in first with a time of 16 minutes and 34 seconds.
▪ Maria Julieta Fraguio was the fastest female, finishing in 20 minutes and 50 seconds.
* The results are preliminary