Dressed in white, Kay Kelly joined about 150 people at Hopkins Plaza yesterday for a Mother's Day rally aimed at raising public awareness about breast cancer.
Perhaps a quarter of the people there wore white, too, dramatizing that they weren't just talking about breast cancer: They lived it.
It's been a harrowing year for Mrs. Kelly, and one with hope, too.
At 49, the Annapolis woman was diagnosed with breast cancer after she felt a small lump that unexpectedly appeared during the 14 months since her last mammogram. Since her discovery, she endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, watched her hair fall out and grow back, felt her health slip away and then return.
And she opened a shop in Annapolis where cancer patients can buy wigs, turbans and breast prostheses from someone who knows their ordeal.
The idea came to her when she was browsing in a busy wig store and a shop attendant asked her in a shrill voice: "Are you chemo?"
Yesterday, after the rally, Mrs. Kelly responded with humor when asked how she felt these days.
"New hair," she said, tugging at a thick crop that was really hers. "It's brand new."
On a more serious note, Mrs. Kelly said she attended the rally to show solidarity with other women who were experiencing the ordeal of breast cancer, and to join the call for more research into the killer disease.
"I'm here for my daughter, too, so hopefully they'll find something so she doesn't get it," she said of Karen, 27, who is also her business partner.
The rally was organized by the Breast Cancer Coalition, a national advocacy group; Arm-in-Arm, a local support group; and the University of Maryland Cancer Center. The intent was to encourage women to detect cancer early by getting mammograms and practicing self-examination, and to draw support for a sharp increase in the amount of federal funding that goes to breast cancer research.
Mother's Day was chosen because the disease afflicts family and friends, as well as the victim, rally organizers said.
"It's devastating," said Karen Kelly. "Your whole world changes. You go through life making plans . . . and then you're not sure if your mother's going to be there."
Speaker after speaker yesterday called attention to a campaign by women's groups to win congressional approval of $300 million in federal funding for breast cancer research, more than double this year's total. Two years ago, funding for breast cancer was just $80 million.
Thirty years ago, one in 14 women were diagnosed as having breast cancer sometime in their lifetimes.
Today, the ratio is one in nine.