by KTNA Staff ~ June 15th, 2014
Trapper Creek resident Sondra Porter tells why the Alaska Run for Women has become an important marker of the season for her. Text follows audio.
I love this time of year. There are special markers of what I call “post spring” that I anticipate each year. I rely on the familiar cycles. I rejoice at the nesting birds, the first buds on my wild roses, green sprouts pushing up through garden soil. For a while I am even happy to see the weeds returning—dandelions, nettles, horsetail. I get over that fairly quickly.
Another of my early summer markers is a bit different. For the past fourteen years with the exception of only a few, I have laced-up my best walking shoes and taken part in the five mile Run for Women in Anchorage along with literally thousands of other women. This year over 6,300 girls and women crossed the finish line. One of the many reassuring things about taking part in the run is that, with so many participating, my chances of finishing last are slim.
Many are in the race for the competition. The top three finished in less than 30 minutes. But for most of the participants, this is an experience to be savored. Let’s just say that the five comrades on Team Susitna enjoyed the course for at least four times as long as the winners this year.
This race has so many layers to be appreciated. Pink is the predominate color, appearing in every shade. Tutus, colorful tights, and a wide assortment of costumes are scattered throughout the crowd. Outhouses are decorated in every way imaginable. Music, even bagpipes are played along the course. It takes hundreds of volunteers to pull it all off. Emotions and passions are high because this race is all about breast cancer and breast cancer survival. All the proceeds go toward finding a cure for the disease that kills one woman every 69 seconds somewhere in the world, one every 13 minutes in the U.S. All of us likely know someone who has breast cancer. The numbers are staggering: 2.5 million women alive today have been diagnosed. The chances of women in the U.S. getting breast cancer are one in eight.
At the race, survivors were given bright pink hats to wear. The hundreds of hats show up on young girls, older women, slim bodies, heavy bodies, women from all races. It is sobering to see the hundreds of pink hats in the crowd and realize this devastating cancer has afflicted all these women. However, I am joyous to see them running, laughing, celebrating, embracing friends and life. They are, after all, survivors and so am I. I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself 14 years ago–just a few days before I completed my first Run for Women. Even though I was numb from the shock of the diagnosis, I remember that race most vividly, all the women who surrounded me, my husband cheering me on.
Sadly, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women. Nearly 1.4 million women around the world are diagnosed every year. That number does not seem to be going down. You can decrease your chances of getting breast cancer. Although there is no magic formula or vaccine to prevent the disease, statistic and studies tell us a great deal. There are risk factors we cannot control like genetics and gender. Men can get breast cancer, but it is 100 times less likely. Another key risk factor is age. Studies clearly show that the older you are, the more likely you are to get breast cancer. What you can control includes lifestyle choices such as how much physical exercise you get. As you can imagine, you need to keep active. The main question is how much exercise is needed. In one study from the Women’s Health Initiative, as little as 1¼ to 2½ hours per week of brisk walking reduced a woman’s risk by 18%. Walking 10 hours a week reduced the risk a little more. To reduce your risk of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week. Every woman participating in the Run for Women is doing herself a favor by exercising and staying active. Even survivors have a decreased risk of reoccurrence if they exercise, and I have to constantly keep reminding myself to turn off the computer and get moving
Being active goes hand in hand with keeping your weight under control. Every study indicates that being overweight or obese puts us all at a higher risk for a whole menu of health issues. (Note to self: Just say no to chocolate fudge sundaes in excess and that extra glass of my favorite white wine.) According to the American Cancer Society, those who have 2 to 5 drinks daily have about 1½ times the risk as compared to women who don’t drink at all. Excessive alcohol consumption is also known to increase the risk of developing several other cancers.
The most excellent news is that more women each are surviving breast cancer. The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer, when caught early before it spreads beyond the breast, is now 98 percent, compared to 74 percent in 1982. The treatments are more successful and so much more is known about how to target the individual diagnosis than it was when I was diagnosed in 2000. I believe some of the breakthroughs are coming because of money and awareness made possible through races like our Run for Women and the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure which takes place in all other states and many other countries! And don’t forget self- exams and the joys of the breast flattening mammogram. Early detection can literally save your life.
So I hope to continue beginning my summers with the Run for Women. For me and for so many others like me, we are celebrating being alive and being healthy enough to participate. All of us, who have gone through the treatments, know the agony and side effects, and we know of sisters and friends who did not make it. At the finish line, survivors are handed a long stemmed pink carnation. My Team Susitna friends cheer, hug me, and congratulate me each year as though I have won the race, and in a way, I have.
By Sondra Porter