ATHENS — Mary Gilmore, of Pomeroy, wasn’t sure if she would be able to join in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Athens event that was set to take place Oct. 25.
But by Sunday evening, she knew she’d made the right choice to participate in the event with her sister-in-law, Debbie Gilmore, of Reedsville. This is the first year that a Race for the Cure event has been hosted in Athens, with the main race always held in Columbus.
“We were meant to go,” Debbie said.
Mary and Debbie are both breast cancer survivors, with Debbie a year out of her initial diagnosis, and Mary five years out of hers. The pair said they’ve always been close, but having gone through the same struggle and eventual victory over cancer brought them closer, she said. The two said that they were also brought closer together by the fact that their tumors were located in the same area and in the same breast, which made it even easier for Mary to empathize when she learned Debbie was diagnosed.
They, along with many other survivors and family and friends, made the journey to Athens to find decent weather and more support than they ever could’ve imagined, including many goodies given away to survivors, booths with information and resources and even a cheering section for those who participated.
By the end, both said they were moved beyond words.
“We were crying like crazy, it was so emotional,” Mary said.
Debbie shared the same sentiment about her emotions after the race.
“I was choked up. It was really hard for me to talk,” she said.
Debbie added that “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten was blasting through speakers throughout the race, and that she couldn’t get the song’s lyrics out of her head days later.
Mary said it was moving to be around so many other survivors who understood what she, her sister-in-law and so many others had also been through.
“What got me was to see that sea of survivors and you know they’ve gone through a lot,” she said. “I don’t care how bad your case is; it’s an emotional, mental and physical struggle.”
But while Mary said she understood the toll that cancer had on her in the past and what she had to go through, she didn’t necessarily feel brave in the traditional sense because of her diagnosis.
“People look on cancer survivors and think they’re brave, and we don’t feel that way,” Mary said. “We feel lucky and very fortunate, but we don’t feel brave. Because I always wondered when people say, ‘I have cancer,’ I don’t know what I’d do if that happened to me. But you find out really quickly that you do what you have to.”
Debbie said she understood Mary’s sentiment, but also shared that she amazed herself after the diagnosis with how she was able to carry on.
“I didn’t realize how strong I was until I was diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “I actually amazed myself with the inner strength that I have.”
Both gave credit to Susan G. Komen, the Meigs County Health Department and the Meigs County Cancer Initiative for offering the services that they do, including a paid for mammogram and referrals. Debbie also said she found her breast lump thanks to a self-exam, which she implored all women to do at least once a month.
“You know what’s normal (during a self-exam), and then if you feel something and think, ‘Oh no, that’s not supposed to be there,’ it throws up a red flag,” Debbie said, adding that she only had to receive radiation treatment.
“I actually saved myself from getting chemo by finding the tumor early because if I didn’t find it, it would’ve gone to my lymph nodes,” she said.
The duo also wants to remind people that men can be diagnosed with breast cancer as well, and that all survivors wear a badge of honor, no matter who they are. They added that anyone who becomes diagnosed with breast cancer should know that there’s a whole network of support available for them.
“There are people to reach out to,” Mary said. “It’ not something anybody should ever have to go through alone.”
Mary said that the race had raised $38,000, which was 78 percent of their amended $50,000 goal. The money raised from the race benefits 18 counties in southeast Ohio: Meigs, Gallia, Lawrence, Jackson, Monroe, Athens, Muskingum, Hocking, Noble, Perry, Vinton, Washington, Scioto, Morgan, Ross, Fairfield, Pike and Guernsey.
The pair also plan to attend the Komen Race for the Cure in Columbus in May of next year in their ongoing victory against cancer and their support for those who have endured the same hardships.
“Even after going through it, it’s surreal,” Mary said. “It’s hard to believe it happened. It’s a badge of honor to be a survivor because not everybody makes it, and attitude is everything. Fighting the fight and trying to help others at Race for the Cure is such an incredible experience.”
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555.