The first time she attended the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event in Miami, Carla Horne didn’t understand what the party was about.
“I was shaking, asking myself, ‘Why are we celebrating? I have cancer,’” said the Miami Jackson Senior High teacher, who was diagnosed in 2010.
Now, four years later, she says the shaking is from her excitement. Her favorite part: “People randomly giving me hugs, telling me, ‘Congratulations, survivor.’”
Horne is one of more than 30,000 people who descended on Bayfront Park, clad in all shades of pink, for the 19th annual Race for the Cure event — a festive 5K to raise money for breast cancer research.
“It took some getting used to the celebration. But you learn to appreciate breathing. That’s something to celebrate,” said Horne, 47.
From her first time running the course, Horne has drawn hope from elder cancer survivors. For every year since their diagnosis, they add one pink ribbon to their shirt or baseball cap.
Accompanied by family and friends, Horne set up a hub at the starting line, beaming — she had invited her students to the race and told them to meet her by the starting line to get community service hours. More than 70 students stopped by, including senior Maikl Hernandez.
“She is the best teacher ever,” said Hernandez, 17. “These people are suffering and for them to be walking around showing their strength is really inspiring.”
Arlene Hagley, 56, walked with her cousin and two nieces. She has been fighting breast cancer for five years and recently went into remission.
“As a survivor, it’s great to see people gathering for this cause. It just shows you people have your back,” said Hagley, whose mother died of cancer before Hagley was diagnosed. “Today, I’m representing those who lost the battle.”
Joining the 1,200-plus survivors were participants who rallied in teams to show support for loved ones lost to the disease, which claims the lives of 40,000 men and women every year.
Greg Williams, an officer with the Miami-Dade Public Schools police department was walking in memory of his co-worker, Sgt. Mary Ann Harris, who died of breast cancer in September.
“She was an amazing woman,” Williams said.
Close to 100 people donned shirts bearing Harris’s picture to remember a woman who was always happy and kept working until the very end. Harris had been with the department for 12 years.
“We’re a close-knit family, and she was special, always there to help,” said Sheri Abrams, a co-worker.
Amanda Martinez, 36, held her son tightly as they posed for a picture inside a cardboard frame. Martinez lost her mother-in-law to breast cancer last year, just three weeks before she found out she was pregnant.
“This is her grandson,” Martinez said. “We’re here to show that we all stick together.”
Cathy McCarthy, the executive director of the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale Komen affiliate, said the event is on track to raise at least $1 million. A portion of those funds go toward national initiatives; the rest stays in the Miami-Broward-Monroe County area. The goal is to find a cure for the disease.
Luz Elena Santos, 62, has been cancer-free for 10 years, but she has a daughter and hopes that a cure comes sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, she tells those newly diagnosed: “Don’t get discouraged. Hair loss is just that. After the storm, comes the calm.”
Follow the reporter on Twitter @MelhorL.