Research drives breast cancer patient

As she organizes her second annual run to raise funds for breast cancer research, Darby Steadman is facing what she calls a delightful dilemma. She has no shortage of runners.

The event in a Millersville park next Saturday is maxed out at about 250 registered participants and dozens of volunteers. The Driving Miss Darby Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Steadman and friends, may have to close registrations.

"Isn't that a nice problem to have?" said the 40-year-old mother of two, who is battling breast cancer.

Undeterred by the possibility of too many participants, she has expanded the event to "dozers."

"You can still support the cause and get a T-shirt," she said. "You can pay the $25 registration fee and sleep instead of run."

The 2009 run and a golf tournament and banquet in Tampa, Fla., Steadman's hometown, led to a $25,000 contribution, presented Thursday to Dr. Leisha Emens at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. The funds, the foundation's third contribution in the last few years, will support Emens' clinical trial research into a breast cancer vaccine, a trial in which Steadman has participated.

In 2004, Steadman, then 34 and living in Atlanta, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Aggressive surgery and chemotherapy left her cancer-free. She moved to Millersville four years ago, thinking cancer was behind her. In 2007, the disease returned and had metastasized to other parts of her body. She began chemotherapy and joined Emens' trial. She quickly found how caring her new neighbors could be.

"God surrounded me with wonderful women here," she said. "They have demonstrated incredible love, caring and support in a way that transcends any idea of where you live."

The Driving Miss Darby Foundation was born out of the generosity of her neighbors, who drove her to the hospital, ran her errands, shopped for the family's groceries and made sure the Steadman children reached all their activities.

"They would even pick up crickets for my son's gecko," she said.

The foundation's logo is a perky, pony-tailed woman wearing a pink scarf and dark glasses. Her hands are on the steering wheel.

"I am the face of the foundation, but it is the incredible collaboration of so many," she said. "They helped me to survive day to day. Now I am driving and keeping it up."

Steadman's own experience showed her what was needed to help other patients and to further research. She introduced Emens to many foundation members at a Christmas coffee and house tour that raised $18,000 in 2008, and the fundraising has not stopped since.

The foundation is also trying to raise awareness about the availability of clinical trials for cancer patients, and to offset expenses for those patients. It helps doctors, like Emens, find the patients they need to continue their research, she said.

"We are not as big as the Susan G. Komen Foundation," she said of the nationally known organization that battles breast cancer. "We are focused on one thing — clinical trials."

The foundation provides hope to cancer patients, who sometimes feel they have run out of treatment options, she said.

"The true blessing of all this is that it has shown me that people want to get involved," she said. "They want to help, but sometimes, they don't know the needs and the how. We can show them."

Steadman has already scheduled a second golf tournament in May and will begin planning next year's 5K run soon after this one is done, she said.

"I definitely will continue with the run and the tournament," she said. "This is a wonderful way for me to make a difference."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

If you go

Run with Miss Darby

Driving Miss Darby Foundation 5K Run. Saturday, Oct. 23, at Kinder Farm Park, Millersville. 7 a.m. check-in and 8 a.m. kick-off. Runners, dozers and others who want to lend a hand at Run with Miss Darby can get details at drivingmissdarby@gmail.com.

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