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Fighting breast cancer – 10,000 expected to attend

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When her mother died of breast cancer 17 years ago, Tari Schutzman was not prepared.

“I didn’t know anything,” she says. “I didn’t want to know anything. I stuck my head in the sand. It was very frightening.”

But Schutzman, an assistant vice president for retail marketing at First Union, started getting an annual mammogram – a practice that she believes helped save her life three years ago when she herself was diagnosed with the disease.

“I’m doing really well,” she says. “It really propelled me into action and to learn all I could about breast cancer. Being educated is very important because you need to take an active role in your treatment.”

Now, Schutzman volunteers to help spread the word to other women about the importance of understanding and dealing with the disease.

She co-chairs the fifth annual Race for the Cure that will be held Oct. 6.

The race is one of 112 sponsored by the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which has raised more than $300 million for cancer research, education, screening and treatment since 1982.

This year, for the first time, the foundation’s Charlotte affiliate has a full-time administrator.

“We want a year-round presence to raise breast-cancer awareness,” says Penelope Wilson, executive director of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation of Charlotte.

With an estimated 26,000 breast-cancer survivors in the Charlotte area, she says, helping women cope with the disease is critical.

As a volunteer, Wilson launched the local race in 1997 after her partner died of breast cancer.

She expects the 5K event – which begins and ends at the First Union Atrium downtown — will attract 10,000 participants and 400 volunteers, and raise $750,000, up from 2,300 participants, 75 volunteers and $194,000 in 1997.

Local sponsors include SIGNA HealthCare, SouthPark mall and the Carolina Panthers.

The local race has generated $1.7 million in five years. After expenses, one-fourth supports national research, and most of the remainder supports local projects to promote awareness, screening and treatment. Administrative costs consume less than 16 percent of the total raised.

The local group last year launched a speakers bureau, with 20 trained volunteers speaking about breast cancer to businesses and civic groups.

And next May 12, Mother’s Day, the foundation will sponsor its first-ever Sing For The Cure, a fundraising concert that puts the story of breast cancer to music. It will be held at the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

The organization also uses its Web site to handle signups for race participants and volunteers, take online donations and help spread the word about breast cancer.

“Knowledge and awareness and education are some of our greatest tools against the disease,” says Laura Belcher, director of investment consulting at IJL Wachovia and president of the local Komen Foundation’s board.

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