Komen Race for the Cure celebrates 25 years in Pittsburgh
The thought was always in the back of Ilene Iskoe’s mind.
After her mother, one of her cousins and four aunts were diagnosed and battled breast cancer; the mammograms for Iskoe began nearly at the same time her mother received the diagnosis.
“It was almost not if, but when?” Iskoe said.
That “when” came in 2009 as she and the family piled into the car to leave from their Upper St. Clair home to continue what has become a tradition. The destination on that mid-May morning was to assist in the production of the Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure for those who have defeated, lost or continue to fight their battle with breast cancer.
Iskoe’s predicament, a heartfelt one of many women that battle with what to wear on an everyday basis, came in the form of a pink, cotton survivor T-shirt worn by many at the race. That year – 2009 – was the first Iskoe could have put on that shirt to represent one of the newer members to join the fight.
“I don’t know why I didn’t where it,” Iskoe remembers of the day where the participation came with her own battle with breast cancer. “I didn’t feel like I was surviving something. I didn’t necessarily want that attention on myself.”
Eight years later and seven races throughout Pittsburgh’s streets – including the upcoming 25th annual event May 14 at Schenley Park with events beginning at 6:30 a.m. – Iskoe has never second-guessed her wardrobe following that first race after being diagnosed.
“I feel so lucky to be in that group of survivors,” she said. “When you see all of the pink shirts, you truly cannot imagine how special of a moment that is. It’s a sea of pink. It just really warms your heart to see all the different people, both women and men, of different ages and races all sharing this one thing.”
The event features a kid’s dash, survivor parade and tribute, a 5K competitive run, 5K walk and one-mile fun walk raises money for both local programs and national research for breast cancer education, screening and treatment. It has supported more than three million survivors through research and community programs.
Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh provides outreach to 34 counties in western and central Pennsylvania. What the nonprofit organization really has been able to do is make is it a topic of conversation, bringing it to the light for those who do and don’t have it.
“To see everything that Komen has done to make this visible is amazing,” said Lou Ann Jeremko, the executive director at Consumer Health Coalition and a Mt. Lebanon resident.
Jeremko has never been diagnosed with breast cancer, but she’s found herself either participating or volunteering with the race in Pittsburgh for the last 24 years after her aunt was diagnosed three decades ago.
“It was just a nice little event, then within a number of years we saw over 30,000 people participate,” she remembers. “Out of everything that happens that day I tear up thinking about the survivor walk. It is stunning to see all of these women and men collectively walk before the race begins. So many things have changed but not that. It’s very important.”
Whether it’s Iskoe’s pink shirt highlighting a survivor or Jeremko, who is a proud participant of the events, it’s a day they both admit brings people together fighting for a common goal.
“I think there are a lot of people that come from all over to participate in the major city closest to them,” Iskoe said. “It’s something you truly can’t imagine until you go down there and experience the electricity of the integration between all the people. “It’s an overwhelming feeling. It pulls the entire community together because it touches everyone’s family in one way or another.”