COLUMBUS (WCMH) — This weekend, for the first time in Komen Columbus history, the town will not be painted pink for breast cancer awareness and the Race for the Cure. The large event that draws 10s of thousands each year is postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, officials announced August 1 as the new date for the race.
We found in the organization’s brief history that they are so much more than just a race. Founded in 1993, Komen Columbus has made it a mission to help breast cancer patients.
“We have seen a lot of new work in the community and engagement with people in a lot of new ways,” said Executive Director Julie McMahon.
What was once just a group of volunteers, is now a full organization of advocates and cheerleaders. The race has grown to the largest in the nation with 40 to 50 thousand people. To those who rely on them, it is so much more than an annual event.
“We have recently brought people into our organization who impact patients directly if it’s financial support and navigating them through the healthcare system.” Before the affordable care act they helped the uninsured afford mammograms.
Through her years with the organization, McMahon says the group helped to fund research that led to medical breakthroughs.
“It’s interesting to put that next to the timeline of the race and see how we all, as our community has worked to fund research and help our neighbors, have ridden a long side the history of drug development and how we’ve saved people’s lives over the years.”
The interest in Komen Columbus took off in the mid 2000’s after the deaths of Stephanie Spielman and Heather Pick. Spielman was wife to former Ohio State Football star Chris Spielman and Pick was a well known local anchor and both were young women who led a public fight against the disease. Komen Columbus was able to hire their first staff and in the last few years they’ve shifted to focusing on advocacy, effectively expanding breast and surgical cancer programs through the department of health.
“We were able to expand it through our work with legislators to increase the budget for it and to allow more women to use it who are low income and can’t afford screenings and treatment.”
Komen Columbus also worked to make sure those taking oral treatments received the same coverage as those who went through IV treatment.
Just recently, Komen took a big step in creating a retreat for patients and their spouses.
“it was all about how to cope and some of the decisions they have to make as patients. It was very difficult, but it was one of the most meaningful situations I’ve been a part of in years.”
Today, dozens of people with breast cancer are also battling the fallout from the pandemic. Unemployed and in need of help, Komen started an emergency support fund for 40 people in the Columbus area who lost their job during treatment.
“Some of them are waitresses and are going through the worst time for that to be happening and we have been able to buy them groceries and deliver food and we just had someone this week who was in tears over the phone because she was so grateful for having that resource. Being able to do that has been an honor in our office.”
While the race of 2020 was postponed, McMahon says they are still celebrating victories and pushing those fighting to the finish line. How they responded to this crisis will be another milestone for the growing movement.
“The important thing for people to know is there will be a race again. We will not be going away, we will see everyone, when it’s safe and healthy for everyone to do that again.”