Faces in the race

By Ret Boney

RALEIGH, N.C. — While Debbie Horwitz and Gail Rothstein have never met, they share the experience of breast cancer, and walked the same route at the Race for the Cure to raise money to fight the disease.

One year ago this month, Debbie Horwitz, then 32, discovered a lump on her breast during a self-examination.

This year, after a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, breast reconstruction and her wedding, she served as captain for the 50 members of Team Hope in the Komen NC Triangle Race for the Cure, held at Meredith College in Raleigh on June 11.

“This race is so significant for me this year,” says Horwitz, a child advocacy specialist for North Carolina’s Youth Advocacy and Involvement Office.  “I could hardly walk six months ago.”

The race, organized by the Triangle affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, drew some 17,000 walkers and runners, says Pam Blondin, executive director, and accounts for 70 percent to 80 percent of the group’s annual budget.

She expects this year’s race will bring in more than the $750,000 raised last year, nearly $500,000 of which was granted to 15 local nonprofits, with other funds going to the national Komen Foundation Award and Research Grant Program.

Nationally, more than one million walkers and runners take part in more than 100 races each year, Blondin says, and have raised more than $750 million since the first race in Dallas 22 years ago.

Horwitz got involved with the Race for the Cure, even before her diagnosis, as a way to honor and remember her mother, who died of breast cancer when Horwitz was nine years old, and her maternal grandmother, who had breast cancer and died of uterine cancer.

She has served as team captain for races several times, even before her diagnosis, and participated in a three-day walk in Seattle to raise money for the disease.

“This year I feel so weird that there’s any attention around my being team captain, when this was my life anyway,” Horwitz says.

She is now using her experience to help other young women who face the diagnosis.

“The sad part about this disease is that it’s impacting more young women than before,” she says, adding that many of them elect not to have breast reconstruction after mastectomy.

To help young women get the information they need to make informed decisions, Horwitz is working with Raleigh photojournalist, Missy McLamb to create a brochure targeted to young women that explains the process.

“If I can empower them to understand that they can look whole again, then I want to do that,” she says.

Nine years ago, the same week as her 41st birthday, Gail Rothstein, a court reporter for the state Department of Agriculture, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was scared to death because I didn’t know what to expect,” says Rothstein, who had a 10-year-old daughter at the time.  “The first thing I thought about was what would happen to my daughter.”

She had a partial mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation, both of which she says she tolerated well.

“Staying active with my other activities and having good support was important to me,” says Rothstein.

This was Rothstein’s second Race for the Cure, and she says participating has helped her as well as other women suffering from breast cancer.

“I see it as showing people that you can beat it,” she says, noting that survivors wear pink shirts for the race.  “If you see the people that have beaten it, it’s not a hopeless cause.”

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