Jacqueline Williams first ran the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for fun, years ago with a Black Girls Run team.
“I didn’t know anybody at the time that had breast cancer,” said Williams, 41 and a Raleigh resident.
In May 2014, she had registered for the race a second time, but was stunned to learn that she had breast cancer.
“I had surgery a week before the race,” Williams said. Despite surgery, she participated, her husband and friends joining to support her – and to ensure that she walked instead of running.
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“It was emotional and it was a lot,” she said. “I knew that I had chemo coming up and there were so many unknowns at that point and so much fear. But there’s so much love here and support ... you know you’re not going to do the fight alone.”
Saturday morning, joined by 31 women from Black Girls Run – including 10 survivors – Williams ran her third Susan G. Komen Triangle Race for the Cure at Meredith College.
The 19-year-old event, which raises awareness and funds for breast cancer patients, hosted almost 8,000 participants and raised more than $877,000.
The North Carolina Triangle to Coast affiliate contributes 75 percent of donations received to local causes, while a quarter goes to Komen’s national research program. Last year, $2 million of the national contributions came back to Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill for research.
Jill Houck, 57, Kate Houck, 26, and friend JoEllen Billotte, 26 – the latter two sporting pink mustaches, sunglasses and leis – were running the race in honor of Jill Houck’s mother, who is a 43-year survivor.
“In the 70s, the rate of survival wasn’t as high,” Jill Houck said. “I was 12 when she was diagnosed.”
Chelsea Gibbs, 45, has survived breast cancer twice and was joined Saturday by her children, 10-year-old Kiran Gibbs and 6-year-old Devlin Gibbs, and mother Joycelyn Benham.
For the past 18 years, Chelsea Gibbs has participated in the charity run. One year, she ran pregnant with Kiran, and another, not even a 102-degree fever could stop her from racing.
Before the race began, participants could write a message on the Wall of Hope.
“Dear Lisa Mize,” read one note, “I really hope you get thor cancer well because I would like to be in you’re 4th grade class next year.”
As the bell rang for the start, a tsunami of white and pink gained momentum, including hundreds of tutus and creative team shirts. One man’s shirt read, “Wife: 1, Cancer: 0.”
Top male finisher and overall winner Fadi Hanna, 22, of Raleigh sported a bright pink tutu as he sprang across the finish line, averaging a 5:36 mile. He’s participated two other years and has a personal connection to the cause. His mom is a 14-year survivor of breast cancer.
‘You keep running’
During her battle with cancer this past year, Williams continued to participate in half-marathons, albeit slower than normal, through 12 rounds of chemotherapy and 20 doses of radiation.
“You get tired and just want to lay on the couch,” she said. “But if you have stuff on the schedule you keep running.”
Saturday morning, Williams, sporting a pink tank top and neon pink headband, smiled as she announced herself six months out from treatment and just three weeks ago declared cancer-free.
“This year, (the fight) is in the rear-view mirror,” Williams said, her eyes watery. “There’s no fear, there’s just joy. I’m happy, I’m blessed, I’m thankful.”
Top finishers in Competitive 5K
▪ Top male finisher and overall first place: Fadi Hanna, Raleigh, 17:23.92
▪ Top female finisher: Sarah Taylor, Cary, 20:34.24