Portraits of Strength

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It’s a startling statistic: One in 8 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes. But it’s a number that the Greater New York City Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure is helping change for the better.

Each year the organization hosts the Komen New York City Race for the Cure, a 5K run/walk that raises money for breast cancer research and local community outreach programs. It draws 25,000 participants, including 2,000 survivors. And of course there are plenty of children taking part with their families, friends and schools.

“The race is a huge family event. It is such a festive, wonderful atmosphere,” says CEO of Komen Greater NYC, Dara Richardson-Heron, a physician and 12-year breast cancer survivor.

Pearl Griffith-Eccles, a 40-year survivor.

Pearl Griffith-Eccles, a 40-year survivor.

There’s a lot to celebrate: Over the last 27 years, Susan G. Komen for the Cure has changed how the world talks about and treats breast cancer, helping to transform millions of breast cancer patients into breast cancer survivors. When Komen for the Cure was founded in 1982, the five-year breast cancer survival rate was around 74 percent. Today, with early detection, it’s 98 percent.

But there’s still a lot of work ahead. Aside from funding breast cancer research, Komen Greater NYC supports essential community-based breast health education, screening and treatment programs.

This year’s race includes a special new element that will inspire all who participate: an exhibit by New York City photographer Jeffrey Shaw featuring 10 photographs of breast cancer survivors surrounding the borders of Survivor Village, an area near the Central Park Bandshell where survivors and their families gather before and after the race. The photographs, which stand 5 feet tall, are printed on translucent mesh material, giving them an ethereal quality, and include each woman’s first name and years of survival.

“I wanted the photograph to represent their life’s passion,” says Shaw. “I asked each woman, What do you love? What fulfills you in life? Within each portrait, there’s a story.”

One of the women photographed is Pearl Griffith-Eccles, a 40-year survivor who volunteers at numerous local hospitals and cancer centers. Photographed in her signature brightly-colored head scarf, she is immediately recognizable to other survivors—her story has been told on Oprah, among other places. “As a long-term survivor, people get to know you,” she says. “They tell me, ‘When I see you, my hope is renewed.’”

Fifteen-year survivor George Ann Garrison, who recently celebrated her 75th birthday, says that her picture, taken with her husband Bill in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, represents the 18-mile walk they take over the bridge from their Upper West Side home three times a week, a walk that takes her mind off the disease and helps her “keep going.”

Marilou Young, a photographer who has survived cancer three times since 1996, is shown with her camera. She says that seeing other survivors at the race gives her tremendous hope. “It’s just wonderful to see that the disease has not disabled them,” she says.

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