Survivors, supporters race for the cure in Schenley

A group of women at the 2018 Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure show their support holding a banner stating the event’s motto, “Be Bold. Be Fearless. Be More Than Pink.” (Photo by Jon Kunitsky | Staff Photographer)

Amber Baker led her team of “Bosom Buddies” through Schenley Park this Mother’s Day with her daughter, Angelina Chertik, who traveled across the state from Philadelphia to attend the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, an annual 5K run that raises money and awareness for breast cancer.

Baker, a 55-year-old resident of Ellwood City and two-time breast cancer survivor, first beat the disease in 2010 and again in 2017. Chertik and her friend Rosemary Kennedy wanted to run the race back in Philadelphia, but instead they decided to come to Pittsburgh and run the race together as “Amber’s Bosom Buddies.”

Baker, Chertik and the “Bosom Buddies” were just a few of the crowd of about 18,000 in attendance, including approximately 2,000 breast cancer survivors.

Baker’s team started a fundraiser page through the Susan G. Komen website to help raise money before the event with a goal of $250. They raised more than five times that goal with a total of $1,400.

“We just want to raise awareness and try to find a cure so nobody has to worry about it,” Chertik said.

The Pittsburgh Race for the Cure kicked off with registration at 6:30 a.m., followed by the first race of the day — the Kids’ Dash — at 7:30 a.m.

The morning also included a Survivors & Thrivers Parade at 7:50 a.m. The main event — the 5K Competitive Run — started at 8:35 a.m. and the morning wrapped up with the 5K Walk and One Mile Fun Walk at 8:45 a.m. in Schenley Park.

Sarah Salem, 35, made a cross-country journey from San Jose, California, to run in the race — a tradition she’s maintained for 21 years. Salem and her mother began running the race in 1997 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since her mother’s death in 2009, Salem has continued the tradition with a team of seven to 15 people.

“It was something that was important to her. I think that she just wants us to remember her and pray for her,” Salem said. “So we do that all the time, but this race is kind of a way to keep the memory alive, but more importantly support the cause.”

Don Menovich, 54, was a volunteer for the event from the South Hills. He came out because he lost his wife to breast cancer.

“Breast cancer claims way too many lives, it’s an insidious disease, particularly how it progresses in women … and men,” Menovich said.

The CEO of the race in Greater Pennsylvania, Kathy Purcell, says it was her 11th race with the Komen organization, and talked about the importance of breast cancer awareness.

“You know survivors talk about it all the time, those who have been diagnosed… talk about that they can’t believe the amount of support they feel from everyone here. It’s really amazing to look around and see that all these people are here, helping us raise money and funds to help cure this disease,” Purcell said.

And while breast cancer is most common in women, one percent of cancer patients and survivors are male. One of those men was the 2018 chair of the race — Daniel Garcia, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 62.

“For about four or five months I ignored the lump that I had, right below my right nipple. I procrastinated. I said, ‘Guys don’t get breast cancer,’” Garcia said.

Garcia is also a forever fighter — meaning the cancer metastasized to other parts of his body. He has since joined the Male Breast Cancer Coalition, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to breast cancer in men.

“I believe there [is a stigma]. I certainly felt it when I felt very uneasy when I was first diagnosed. I made sure that I had my mammogram early in the morning, I wanted to be the first one there so I could get in and out,” Garcia said. “[The receptionist] looks at me and goes, ‘Where’s your wife?’ — oh no, the appointment is for me, Daniel Garcia.”

Susan Carter, a 63-year-old Squirrel Hill resident whose mother passed away from breast cancer in April 2018 at 97 years old, has run the Race for the Cure for 28 years. In that time, she’s learned a lot about how to actually be aware of breast cancer — and had six close friends diagnosed.

“Early detection. Early detection,” Carter repeated. “Do your self-breast exams in the bathroom, in your shower, and go get your annual mammograms when you’re old enough and take it seriously.”

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