COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Downtown Columbus will be a sea of pink this weekend as thousands of pink-clad participants make their way into the city.
The Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure returns on Saturday, and this year’s event is especially meaningful for one central Ohio husband working to keep the legacy of his late wife alive. “It was hard, but we were ready,” admits Rich Gandarillas, who describes the heartbreaking death of his wife Karen in October. “Whenever you lose a loved one, and we’ve all been there in one way or another, you have a void to fill, right? It’s lonely,” Gandarillas adds.
But his wife of 12 years was ready to return home, and the couple knew it was coming. “During the 32-month journey, we talked a lot about making memories. And it was important to make lots and lots of memories.” Now, you can’t walk through the couple’s home without seeing evidence of those memories.
“Many of these t-shirts, friends gave her,” describes Gandarillas of the quilt hanging in the living room. The quilt was given to Rich by a company in Bexley called ‘Keepsake Quilts.’ It’s made of more than 30 t-shirts of Karen’s that represent her love for everything from the Browns and Buckeyes, to tea, chocolate, and the couple’s dog ‘Teddy.’
Displayed at the top of that quilt, however, are the three simple words Karen lived by: “The legacy principles, that she has — faith, hope, and love. And that foundation, not just for breast cancer, but anything in life will get you through,” Rich encourages.
Last May we introduced you to Karen, who was battling Stage 3 triple negative breast cancer. “Every morning that I can, I spend out here and I get my Jesus on,” said Karen, sitting in the couple’s back porch at the time. Grounded in that same faith, Rich has now made it his mission to keep those legacy principles alive.
“Karen made everyone feel like they were her best friend, and that’s the kind of person she was,” describes Rich, who says he wants Karen to be remembered for more than her breast cancer.
Last year, Rich and Team Karen Gandarillas raised over $14,000 — more than any other team. So far, this year, they’ve already matched that total and expect to eclipse it before Saturday’s event.
“We’re also, as part of the legacy, we’re donating money to other organizations that Karen was close to, like Honor Flight Columbus, The River 104 — to keep that inspirational music going, and organizations that meant more to use beyond just the cancer piece,” Rich explains.
On Monday, boxes now fill the couple’s home with pink bracelets, ribbons, t-shirts and more. Rich is in charge of, as he says, ‘pinkifying’ the race route ahead of Saturday. “KJG. Her initials are on the sleeve,” Rich says, holding up a Team Karen Gandarillas t-shirt. Rich says despite her death, Karen beat cancer in the way she lived her life.
And though she is now gone, Rich still holds hope for one more victory in the fight against breast cancer. “Even survivors are just without cancer for now. Every day they’re looking over their shoulder,” Rich says. “So, Komen has been a special place that allows us to deliver our message, while also continuing to accept what is out there in this community that most of us don’t want to be a part of, really.”
Komen Columbus Race For the Cure is taking place this Saturday. The race kicks off at 8:45 a.m. and registration is still open. For registration information, or to learn how you can support their mission to end breast cancer, click here.