After days of fog and rain, the sun emerged on Sunday at 8 a.m., just in time to greet the breast cancer survivors and their supporters at the Susan G. Komen North Jersey Race for the Cure at the South Mountain Recreation Complex. Some 5000 strong, the crowd of women, children and men browsed informational tents, played games, ate, danced to the live music on the stage, and greeted one another with hugs and tears.
“This is my third time here,” said Beverly James of Newark. “I’m a six-year survivor and I don’t plan to miss a single year.” Many supporters and survivors came in groups, wearing matching t-shirts or hats bearing the names of loved ones.
The day’s events included a 5K timed race, walk, and a Survivor Celebration. To the crowd’s applause, survivors walked behind bagpipers to the event stage. Many survivors clasped hands, hugged and cried. Later, the group celebrated with cake donated by Cake Boss Buddy Valastro.
Locals represented not only with the SOMAGals, but with the South Park bagpipers, based at the South Orange Elks Club, floral decorations by Maplewood’s Jerry Rose, and Alexis Gubbay, spreading the word about male breast cancer at the Blue Wave NJ tent.
“I’m three years out of treatment,” said Jennifer Gordon of Morristown. “And today is my cancerversary, the date I was diagnosed in 2008. No way I was going to miss this party."
Party was the word for many in the crowd, who greeted Survivor Ambassadors Pat Battle and her husband Anthony Johnson. Battle, co-anchor of NBC 4’s “Weekend Today in New York,” was treated for early stage breast cancer. She welcomed the crowd and introduced music for the occasion.
While the Komen organization was embroiled in controversy earlier this year, and a local team felt that impact, Sunday’s mood was one of jubilation mixed with tears.
Inside the survivor tent, where women had mini-makeovers from Armani, brunched courtesy of ShopRite, and chatted, walls were hung with large photos of women touched by breast cancer.
In one photo, Nancy Sumas poses with her mother, 80, Viola Luciano, who was diagnosed 42 years ago. “My mom is my inspiration,” writes Sumas. “I think about how isolated and afraid she felt 42 years ago. Her generation rarely spoke about breast cancer. My generation is educated, aware, and informed. We’ve come a long way baby!”
Sumas’s words could have been the message of the day. Far from being a secret illness as it was in generations past, breast cancer is “on the radar,” as Jonelle B. of West Orange said, for many women and men today. “I almost never meet anyone who hasn’t been touched by breast cancer,” said Jonelle, a two-time survivor. “But when I come here today I realize that it means almost everyone also has a survivor to celebrate.”
MALE - FIRST PLACE
Brandon Ellison (Morristown)
Time: 18 minutes 4 seconds
MALE - SECOND PLACE
Keith Kelleher (Hoboken)
Time: 18 minutes 37 seconds
FEMALE - FIRST PLACE
Heidi Hullinger (New York)
Time: 19 minutes 37 seconds
FEMALE - SECOND PLACE
Kirsten Peterson (New Providence)
Time: 21 minutes 38 seconds
SURVIVOR - FIRST PLACE
Sherry Peterson (New Providence)
Time: 25 minutes 00 seconds
SURVIVOR - SECOND PLAcE
Lynn Bircsak (Westfield)
Time: 27 mintes 17 seconds