Life-saving steps

Susan G. Komen Philadelphia CEO Elaine Grobman, an Oxford Circle native, discusses how the organization’s new Mother’s Day event will help raise funds to go toward breast cancer research and treatment.

A walk to remember: Diane Miller (left), a metastatic breast cancer survivor, and Elaine Grobman (right), Komen Philadelphia CEO and a Northeast native, discuss how the organization’s new Mother’s Day event will help raise funds to go toward breast cancer research and treatment. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Diane Miller remembers standing at the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, looking out into the crowd and seeing 100,000 people on Mother’s Day.

The crowds had showed up for Susan G. Komen Philadelphia’s Race for the Cure, an iconic event hosted to help raise funds for breast cancer awareness, research and treatment. But Miller, an East Torresdale resident who grew up in Oxford Circle, doesn’t expect the crowds to be quite as big this year. And she’s happy about it.

Komen is retiring the Race for the Cure and is bringing in the More Than Pink Walk, a newly envisioned event that will require attendees to pay to enter. The exclusivity is deliberate, Komen Philadelphia CEO Elaine Grobman said.

“When you have an event like in past years where 90,000 people come, but you only have 10,000 registered, it means I have to take those dollars and pay for the event, and there’s very little left for funding grants,” said Grobman, who grew up in Oxford Circle. “My favorite phrase is no money, no mission.”

The event will keep its survivor walk down the museum steps, but will now be gated so that only those who registered and paid will be able to enter. Grobman said this change is so that only people serious about raising funds for the mission will attend, as the Race for the Cure had become “the biggest party in town” in recent years, with people showing up but not giving money toward Komen’s missions.

The route through the city and along the river will be replaced by a walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art at Eakins Oval to Logan Circle and back, which participants can complete as many times as they like. There will also be tents on site representing Komen’s four organizational pillars of research, community, care and action. Philadelphia will be the one of the first locations in the country to try out the new event format.

Komen is the largest funder for breast cancer research in the country. Since 1991, fundraising from the Race has allowed Komen Philadelphia to distribute more than $62.5 million in grants to fund programs from local hospitals and outreach community health organizations. It’s also funded more than 176,500 free mammograms for women in the community and contributed approximately $27 million to breast cancer research.

Locally, hospitals including Fox Chase Cancer Center and Jefferson hospital locations have received grants from money raised from the event. Grants are usually $25,000 per hospital and go toward funding mammograms and guaranteed treatment if needed, Grobman said.

“In the past years it was $100,000, but because the ‘race’ was growing in size but diminishing in registration, because we became the best party in town, it affected our grants,” Grobman said.

She compared what happened with recent years to showing up to Wells Fargo Center with one ticket and asking for 30 friends to gain entry.

Miller is also eager about the changes. Since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in June 1999 and declared cancer free in 2000, she became involved in Komen, including serving as co-chair for the race for two years.

“I don’t consider it paying [to get in]. I consider it a contribution to the mission,” she said. “We’ll probably have a heck of a lot less people this year, but the people who are there will be there because they care.”

This June will mark 20 years since Miller’s first diagnosis. On May 9 last year, Miller received another breast cancer diagnosis, 19 years after her first. She opted to receive a double mastectomy despite being diagnosed only in the right side, but after the surgery, doctors discovered there were also cancer cells in the left side.

“It was a life-saving decision,” she said. She said the fear of it coming back never left, even after almost two decades.

Miller and her husband became involved in Komen after she survived her first diagnosis. A Philadelphia School District teacher, she became a mentor and a “big sister” to others impacted by cancer.

“I have a granddaughter who is 14 now, and I don’t want her to have to go through what I went through,” she said.

She also has a 12-year-old grandson, whom she shares a pink panda stuffed animal with. He asked to keep it, but when he heard she was going to have a double mastectomy, made his father make a special trip to return the toy for as long as she needed.

Local partners of the event include Dietz & Watson and Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Richard Bleicher and Fox Chase have received funding from Komen for over a decade, and Bleicher leads a team each year.

Dietz & Watson CFO Cindy Yingling is a breast cancer survivor herself, and the company is a longtime food vendor at the event. The company hosts a Pretty in Pig program, which sees giant-sized piggy banks being placed at locations like corporate centers and stores where people can drop off donations dollar by dollar. The program has helped raise over a million dollars.

Registration is available here until 1 p.m. Saturday and will also be available at the Walk. Every attendee will receive a Komen wrap. Those who raise $100 or more will receive a T-shirt.