Cheryl Ann Jones says nothing can stop her from participating in the 5-kilometer Race for the Cure for breast cancer Saturday.
Recent foot surgery hampers her speed, but not her motivation. She plans to wear the bright pink visor symbolic of breast cancer survival and walk an abbreviated course.
All along the way, she will be guided by "I'm a survivor days into years," the words printed on her cap. She also will place on her race T-shirt a gold survivor pin, a gift from her 15-year-old son. The third annual race, her outfit and her outlook remind everyone of the need to fight the disease, she said.
"The hats mean we are survivors," she said. "We are a close-knit group of people fighting to get breast cancer eradicated."
Mrs. Jones, 50, has been active for several years in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which began 15 years ago in Dallas.
Breast cancer will strike 182,000 American women this year and kill about 46,000 of them, said Brenda Bottum, chairwoman of the foundation affiliate in Maryland. The foundation, which works for awareness, is now organizing its third race at Rash Field.
"The work of the foundation is something I can relate to and get involved with," said Mrs. Jones. "Awareness gave me a better chance to survive than my mother and grandmothers had."
Breast cancer claimed her mother, both grandmothers and an uncle, she said.
"It's rare in men, but men should be aware, too," she said.
Mrs. Jones, an Eldersburg resident, often relives her breast cancer experience, which began with detection in 1988 during a routine mammogram.
"They kept impressing on me that they had found it in the early stages, but they said 'carcinoma' at the same time," she said, referring to the Latin medical term for cancer, and often sighed as she recalled "the most frightening moments in my life."
Doctors offered several options, but, given her family history, she felt safest with a bilateral mastectomy. Still, she said, she was unprepared for her reaction to the surgery.
"When I saw myself afterwards, I couldn't rid myself of the memory of the scars," she said. "All I saw was cancer, but I knew there was something I could do about it."
Two years after the operation, she chose reconstructive surgery.
the years have gone on, I feel so good about the decisions I made," she said. "Through the reconstruction, I feel like I gained back my femininity."
Talking about the aftermath helps her and others coping with the same ordeal, she said.
"I thought I could get through the whole thing without support, other than from my family," she said. "But, you need people who can relate to your sadness. I would talk to another survivor and look into her eyes. She would know my pain and my experience."
She joined a support group and through it learned about the foundation, which sponsors 60 annual races in 32 U.S. cities. In Maryland, the foundation has earned more than $320,000, most of it through two previous races. Cheryl and Jim Jones, her husband of 28 years, have volunteered at all three.
"My husband is my best friend, the one who has gotten me through all the ordeal," she said. "He was there for me as my nurse and my greatest support."
Volunteering and fighting back are ways to turn fear and sadness into optimism, she said.
"I don't want people to fear breast cancer, I want them to do something about it," she said.
When she was diagnosed, she said, she felt the devastation common to survivors.
"I felt crumpled that cancer had happened to me," she said. "In the back of my mind was the word 'fatal' and the memories of my mother.
"Now, I have changed all the dark moments to moments of strength and survival. Now, I know that I can get through this."
She has also encouraged her husband, a computer consultant, and youngest son Josh, a student at Liberty High, to join the race. Josh has interested several classmates in volunteering.
"We are leading a caravan of volunteers to the race," she said. "The Liberty students will be making signs and directing racers."
They will also be handing out packets of information that "every woman should read," said Mrs. Jones.
"I want to impress on everybody that early detection is so important," she said. "A regular mammogram is so necessary and is why I am here today."
Organizers expect about 6,000 runners to help raise $200,000 at the 1995 run. The money goes to research, education, treatment and screening, particularly for poor women.
"We have been fortunate that Maryland is a state that provides money for free mammograms, but the state may be losing that money the end of this year," said Ms. Bottum.
Participation in the main fund-raiser is crucial to the foundation's awareness programs, she said.
"We doubled our numbers last year," Mrs. Jones said. "Maybe, we'll double our numbers this year, too."
Racers can register for the 8 a.m. event Saturday. Information: (410) 433-RACE.