By Keysha Drexel
The first time Veronica Wehby participated in the Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama Race for the Cure almost 10 years ago, she didn’t realize how many people across the Birmingham metro area have been touched by breast cancer until she saw the sea of pink at Linn Park, she said.
The second time the Homewood resident took part in the Race for the Cure, that realization had hit even closer to home.
“About two years after my first exposure to the race, my best friend, Rebecca DiPiazza, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24,” Wehby said. “We did the Race for the Cure together that year, and being there with someone I cared about so much who had just been diagnosed definitely made the race completely different for me.”
Sadly, Wehby said, she has had that same personal and emotional experience at every Race for the Cure in Birmingham since.
“Since that time, even more of my friends and family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. “It really brings home the statistic showing that one in eight women will get breast cancer at some point. It has made me want to do everything I can to help find a cure.”
To that end, Wehby has spent the last eight years volunteering with the Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama Race for a Cure in a variety of roles. She started out serving on the race committee the year her best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Last year she was the Race for the Cure co-chairman. This year, she is on the board of directors and is the event chairman.
“I got involved with the race for my best friend, but I’ve stayed involved for me,” Wehby said. “It is one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.”
When she’s not volunteering with Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama, Wehby works as a portfolio manager at Blue Canoe Properties.
“That what I do to support my volunteering habit,” she said, laughing.
Wehby said she recently got a touching reminder of the importance of the work being done by Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama while attending the annual Cahaba Village for a Cure event in Mountain Brook Sept. 18.
“A young lady who works at Whole Foods came over to our tent at the Cahaba Village for a Cure event and told us she had been diagnosed with breast cancer three days before. She’s just 37 years old and has two young children,” Wehby said.
Wehby said the woman started talking about her diagnosis and wondered aloud how she was going to talk to her children about breast cancer and juggle the demands of work with receiving treatment.
“I told her that I knew she probably had a lot of information coming at her but offered to help her with any information or resources she might need, and she stopped me and said that while she was getting a lot of medical information about her diagnosis, she was at a loss as to where to turn for advice on talking to her children and that kind of thing,” Wehby said.
Wehby was able to tell the young woman about books Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama provides to women to help them talk about their diagnoses with young children and also told her about resources for women battling cancer, like yoga classes and support groups.
“It was just one of those moments in life where you know you were supposed to be exactly where you were at exactly that time,” Wehby said. “And the truth of the matter is, if it wasn’t for the Race for the Cure, I wouldn’t have been able to be there when that woman needed information and I wouldn’t have been able to point her to these wonderful programs and resources.”
Wehby said over the past few years, she’s heard of some backlash against the “tide of pink” that seems to envelope Birmingham and other cities across the nation during Breast Cancer Awareness Month when events like the Race for the Cure seek to raise money for cancer research and programs for cancer patients.
“The amount of pink can be a bit overwhelming and you hear people talk about whether the money raised actually does any good, but having been involved with the race for so many years, I have been able to see firsthand how the money raised is saving lives every single day,” Wehby said.
Wehby said 75 percent of the proceeds from the Birmingham race goes to help people in the central Alabama region through grants to community health groups that seek to educate women about their breast cancer risks. One of the organization’s largest grants goes to a program that provides cancer screenings for women in central Alabama who can’t afford the tests.
“The other 25 percent (of the race proceeds) goes into a national grant pool to help fund major research projects, and in our region, that has equated to some very large grants to study breast cancer and breast cancer drugs,” Wehby said. “In 2009, Komen awarded a $6.4 million Komen Promise Grant to UAB for research into triple negative breast cancer, a really aggressive form of breast cancer, and just last year, Dr. (Shih-Hsin) Yang at UAB received a $450,000 grant to study a promising breast cancer drug. And that’s just two that I can think of right off the top of my head. Our website has a grants page that shows how the money raised is being used to make a difference right here in our own backyards.”
Wehby said it has been exciting to be a part of the race as it has grown over the years and also to be a part of the expansion of the North Central Alabama Komen affiliate, which started in 1994 and is one of 121 affiliate offices across the country.
“When I started on the race committee, we had just two cubicles at the American Cancer Society offices,” she said. “Now that the race has grown, we’ve been able to establish our community office in Homewood. I think it’s important that we are there because so many people will stop in and ask for information.”
Wehby said as many as 15,000-16,000 people have participated in the Race for the Cure in Birmingham in the past. She said she’s hoping for record numbers at this year’s event.
“You always hope that it grows bigger, that we raise money to do even more good work,” she said.
But just because the Race for the Cure will be over by Oct. 12 doesn’t mean Wehby will be resting on her laurels.
“It takes all year to get ready for the next race,” she said. “Just like when you’re fighting breast cancer, the race is not the end. We fight breast cancer with our programs and services 365 days a year.”
This year’s Race for a Cure will kick off with registration and packet pickup at 7 a.m. Oct. 11 at Linn Park on 20th Street North in Birmingham.
The Survivor Parade participants will line up at the Survivor Cafe at 8:20 a.m. The 5K race starts at 9 a.m. There will be a one-mile walk/run at 10 a.m. and an awards ceremony at 11:10 a.m. Registration fees are $35 for those 15 and older and $20 for those 14 and younger. There is a $10 charge for chip timing. Participants can register as individuals or start or join a team. Volunteers are also needed.