Making a difference

Jun 2, 2004 at 12:00 am

How much difference can one person really make? This is a question most of us grapple with on a regular basis — but how many of us actually bother to search for the answer?

Nancy Brinker did.

After her sister Suzy Komen lost a three-year battle with breast cancer, Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982 to heighten awareness of the deadly disease and raise funds for research and treatment.

Today, the Komen Foundation is the largest private source of funding for breast cancer research, having raised more than $600 million since its inception. The foundation also created the annual Race for the Cure, the largest series of 5K run/walks in the world. For the past 20 years, groups across the country have organized regional Race for the Cure events, where teams and individuals run or walk through the streets to heighten awareness and raise cash for the continuing battle against the disease.

One of the largest of the Race for the Cure events happens right here in Detroit, sponsored in part by the Motor City’s prestigious Barbara Ann Karmanos Institute. A Detroit native, Barbara Karmanos died in 1989 after an eight-year battle with breast cancer, and her husband Peter founded the institute in memory of his late wife. It is one of the largest cancer centers in the country, and the only one named after a woman.

This year will mark the 13th annual Race for the Cure in Detroit, and organizers are expecting upward of 20,000 racers to participate.

The race kicks off at Comerica Park, and the 5K participants will race up and down Woodward, ending at the starting point; there is also a 1K walk along the same route.

One of the distinguishing aspects of the Detroit race is the musical acts that are placed along the race route — and would you expect any less of Motown?

Mike Meldrum is the chair of the music committee, and has volunteered for the race for 8 years.

“We didn’t have much [music] until 3 years ago,” says Meldrum. “and the response was overwhelming, so we’ve added more.”

This year 20 musical acts will be stationed along the route; among them several middle and high school marching bands, a few choirs, a fife and drum corps, a couple of rock bands, and bluesman Luther “Badman” Keith. Singer Ursula Walker begins the race with a song to survivors, and bagpiper David Hohler plays “Amazing Grace” in memory of those who’ve lost the battle.

Racers can run individually or form teams.

“People just like to be in teams,” says co-chair of the team committee Jan Tebelman. “It’s a collective spirit.”

Some of the largest include Ford Motor Company (2600 members) and Compuware and Verizon (800-900 members each).

Plenty of smaller teams exist as well. Thirteen-year-old Hannah Hodari formed her own team as part of her bat mitzvah project, and many families who’ve lost a mother or sister form teams in memoriam.

Tebelman is part of the largest family-generated team, Nan’s Fans, in honor of her sister Nancy, who died from breast cancer four years ago. Ironically, the two, along with their other three sisters, signed up for their first Race for the Cure just days before Nancy was diagnosed.

“It affects everybody’s life in some way,” says Tebelman. “I can rarely find someone that can say they don’t know someone with breast cancer. Most of the people who volunteer are there for a reason. They all have their stories.”

Breast cancer survivor and Wayne State University employee Sherrie Antoszewski is partly responsible for getting WSU to be a sponsor this year, and helped organize a team for the school, which now has about 200 members.

Antoszewski understands the gravity of events such as these; she was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 25 years old.

In 1998, Antoszewski was bothered by a painful lump in her armpit; which led her to discover a lump in her breast that turned out to be cancerous. After having a lumpectomy and undergoing chemo, cancer has returned to Antoszewski two more times — tragically, her twin sister was also diagnosed.

Still going strong, however, Antoszewski leads a full life with her 4-year-old daughter and husband, and continues to walk in the race each year.

“It’s a wonderful event for the survivors and a place where they can feel comfortable,” says Antoszewski, “and also a place for the community to really embrace the cause, because it’s one that can affect so many of us.”


Race for the Cure starts at 9 a.m. sharp Saturday, June 5, at Comerica Park. Team registration is closed, but individual racers can register up to the day of the event. For more information, visit or call 800-527-6266.

Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]