Breast Cancer Awareness

Miami Komen Race for the Cure raises $1 million

It is the first year that Maria Mantilla felt she could come to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure without breaking down.

But that was inevitable.

She lost her mom to breast cancer on March 18, 2009.

“It was hard getting up today,’’ said Mantilla, holding back the tears. “I didn’t want to cry and get all emotional. But cancer is not a death sentence. There is hope. Even though [my mother] didn’t make it, plenty of people do.”

To prove that, more than 1,000 breast cancer survivors were among the 21,000-plus who participated in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale Komen Race for the Cure.

The survivors wore bright pink shirts and hats adorned with ribbons signifying the number of years they’ve been survivors, ranging from one to 30.

Before the 5K kicked off, the survivors gathered on the stage at Miami’s Bayfront Park and, holding pink roses, sang:

I’m a survivor,

I’m not gonna give up,

I’m not gonna stop,

I’m gonna work harder.

Domingo Alonso stood dressed in pink and held hands with his two kids as he proudly looked for his wife on stage. His sunglasses hid his tears as he remembered the days that his wife battled cancer.

“You think you’re going to lose your wife, you’re going to lose the mother of your kids,’’ Alonso said. “The whole world turns upside down… But we are on the good side of this now.”

Nadine Rosario, from Miami , recalled getting her diagnosis a year ago.

“My first thought was ‘F-ing cancer,’ ’’ said Rosario, 43. “I would not allow it to do me in. I have a daughter to live for.”

The Miami/Fort Lauderdale Komen Race for the Cure is the largest 5K held in Miami, according to the organization, and they proudly announce that fact on the 17,000 T-shirts given free to the first people who registered.

“It’s a very diverse group of individuals and it reflects the support for many people who have passed from this horrible disease,” said Grace Lopez, president of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale affiliate. “But it’s also a huge celebration for the beautiful women who come on stage to celebrate their life and talk about their survivor experiences.”

This year, the Miami/Fort Lauderdale walk raised more than $1 million. Of that, 75 percent will stay in South Florida, the remaining 25 percent will be pooled with Komen’s national efforts to fund research programs.

The Miami/Fort Lauderdale affiliate has been holding the 5K annually for the last 17 years in an effort to educate people about the need for mammograms, information about affordable care, and as a fund-raiser.

“It’s a very special day and it makes us remember all the wonderful memories,” said Kirenia Guerra, 26, who has made the walk an annual family tradition after losing her sister to breast cancer. “We always try to bring more and more people to make them aware. Together we are battling this horrible disease.”

The first Miami race attracted 1,000 participants. But over the years, as awareness has grown, the crowds have swelled to 23,000. In addition, city icons have lent their support, from The Miami Herald printing its pages in pink, to the Freedom Tower being lit in pink, to the streets of Miami being painted pink and white.

Also radiant in pink: Gerri Emkey , from Homestead, who celebrated her victory over cancer by wearing a big pink afro wig, pink sunglasses, pink jewelry and even pink flower tattoos on her breast.

Said Emkey: “There is life after cancer.”