Thousands turn out for Komen Maryland Race for the Cure

The sun had barely risen Sunday morning as Geneva Frazier shimmied in a conga line, her pink feather boa flouncing while "I Will Survive" blared over the loudspeakers at Komen Maryland's Race for the Cure.

This is the fourth year her family has run the Hunt Valley race, and it has been two years since her cousin, Patricia Gross, died of breast cancer.

"It's hard," Frazier said. "But it's a celebration. Everybody's here for the same reason."

However, the turnout Sunday was not as big as in previous years. Numbers have been depressed in Maryland and at Komen events across the country following a controversy over the national Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to cut funds to Planned Parenthood.

On Sunday, registration numbers were down by 29 percent for the 20th annual 5K race that benefits Komen's Maryland affiliate. Donations were down 35.5 percent, organizers said.

Komen Maryland, which never funded Planned Parenthood, has blamed the weak economy and competition from other October events for the decline in donations. Yet the legacy of the national organization's decision — subsequently reversed — to stop funding Planned Parenthood left an imprint on the otherwise joyous celebration of survival and hope in Hunt Valley.

Protesters carrying "Defund Planned Parenthood" signs and 4-foot-tall photos of aborted fetuses stood along the race route, as did supporters of the reproductive health care organization, which provides contraceptives, mammograms and abortions. A few participants got into shouting matches with the protesters.

Controversy aside and despite their diminished ranks, about 30,000 breast cancer survivors and supporters rose before dawn to attend the event, raise money and remember women like Patricia Gross. Her sister, Tracy Smith, couldn't speak about her without tears spilling down her cheeks.

"As long as there's cancer, we need research to end it," Smith said. "It could be any one of us."

The throngs of survivors, their friends and family members donned everything from pink bodysuits to pink false eyelashes to pink sunglasses with attached mustaches. Amid the balloons, boas and streamers were posters and pleas to remember Grandma or Mom — or any of thousands of women who have died of breast cancer. The disease represents a third of all cancers diagnosed in women, according to the American Cancer Society.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 210,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available. The same year, nearly 41,000 women died of the disease in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Organizers said they had registered roughly 23,000 race participants, down from 31,517 last year, and raised a total of $1,440,386. Last year, Komen of Maryland brought in $3.1 million and distributed $2.2 million across the state to 26 programs.

One of those programs benefited Rosalind Draft, 52.

As she was struggling to recover from her cancer treatments, a Komen program paid for a YMCA membership and a personal trainer.

On Sunday, Draft said being surrounded by survivors was exactly what she needed.

"To me, to survive cancer is to get involved, get yourself a support team," she said. "If you're alone, it will pull you down. ... Even though you might lose someone on the journey, there's still so many people out there fighting."