HARRISONBURG — After Suzy Anthony’s screening of a pea-size tumor lit up with stage 1 breast cancer, doctors decided to proceed with a lumpectomy and sample the surrounding tissue.
What began as a routine mammogram resulted in a diagnosis that changed Anthony’s life.
The results from the hospital revealed that Anthony had stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma, a variant that Anthony said is more difficult to detect.
Anthony has no breast cancer in her family’s medical history, so without the mammogram, the cancer cells would have likely developed into a later, incurable stage. This year marks her fifth year as a survivor. On Oct. 19, she will present her testimony before the 17th Annual Race to Beat Breast Cancer 5k in hopes it will convince others to undergo a routine mammogram, which can save a life.
“People will say, you know, ‘I’m afraid of what they’ll find’ or ‘cancer runs in my family.’ The whole thing of it is catching it in an earlier phase before it develops into something full-blown,” Anthony said. “It’s never been hard for me to share what I went through and hopeful can help somebody.”
The race is hosted by Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation each year as a fundraiser for the Rockingham Memorial Hospital Foundation to benefit breast cancer treatment and support at Sentara RMH Medical Center. Last year, 700 people attended and over $16,000 was raised.
RMH Foundation development officer Janet Wendelken helps set up and organize the race each year. She said this year is projected to be the largest turnout for breast cancer ever in the Valley.
“We’re going to make history this year. This is going to be the biggest pink event in Harrisonburg,” she said. “We’re anticipating about 1,000 people to come and participate in the race.”
Deanna Lam, a breast cancer nurse navigator at Sentara Women’s Center, works with newly diagnosed patients. She has participated in the race for 10 years, and this year is a part of a combined Women’s Center staff and patient team of more than 20 racers.
While some nonprofits raise funds on a national scale, all proceeds from this event go directly to RMH Foundation. Wendelken said 280 women in the area received mammograms last year free of cost. Lam confirmed the money goes directly to educational materials, imaging equipment, travel expenses for treatment and post-mastectomy garments.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women and one in 1,000 men in the United States are at risk for developing breast cancer.
The annual race in Harrisonburg hosts survivors and patients with breast cancer to share their stories before the event. Wendelken, who coordinates which speakers, said it is important for the community to see a diverse representation of those affected by breast cancer.
“We want a different story every year — different age, person — just to be able to share with people that it’s not the same age woman every year that gets breast cancer. I mean, it’s all over the spectrum, certainly,” Wendelken said.
Stanley Peyton Jr., a Harrisonburg resident, is running for his grandmother, who is currently battling breast cancer. He was originally interested in the 5k from a fitness perspective, but over the past five years has committed to running in support of friends and family who have been diagnosed.
Peyton said the solidarity and support are unmistakable the day of the event, and he enjoys being able to run alongside those who have also been impacted by the disease.
“I always try and do this one. Once you get there, the atmosphere of survivors, people supporting others that have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s just awesome,” Peyton said. “There is really that connection there that everybody supports everybody, regardless of whether you had breast cancer or you know somebody that has had breast cancer — we’re all out there supporting each other.”
For those who cannot attend the event, this year premieres an option to virtually race, so people can donate money to the cause and complete the course on their own time.
Erik Dart, athletics and special events manager for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation, is one of the original organizers of the race and helped transform it into the large-scale breast cancer event it is today. He said the race is an opportunity to raise awareness and funds, but it is also a space to heal and bond across the Shenandoah Valley.
“I’ve met various people over the years that they’re just glad to come out and see that sea of pink ... and know that there’s that tremendous amount of support here, and it’s not just Harrisonburg. People stretch from Augusta County to West Virginia to Page County to Shenandoah County and all around outside of that, too,” Dart said.
Participants can compete in an effort to take home a medal or leisurely walk for a loved one. There is also a raffle and refreshments for those who come out. The race lasts from 9:30-11 a.m. at Westover Park. Sign-up for the physical or virtual race is available online for $25.