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Originally published Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Race for the Cure against breast cancer draws 14,500 in Seattle

A parade of more than 1,000 survivors wearing pink T-shirts marched through Qwest Field after the race Saturday morning, led by a phalanx of drummers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Connie Delos Santos was an unemployed single mother with no health insurance when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.

When a nurse broke the news, a shocked Delos Santos replied, "I'm sorry, we're going to have to wait until I get a real job with health benefits."

Instead, she had surgery the next month and received further medical treatment with financial support from the county, the state and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The money helped pay her rent and medical bills so she could care for herself and her teenage daughter.

"Susan Komen helped me with my dignity," said Delos Santos, 51. "I was in a state of panic. Although my relatives offered to take care of me, I didn't want to feel like an invalid."

Delos Santos now volunteers for Komen and often walks in its Race for the Cure in Seattle, one of more than 100 held nationwide each year.

She missed Saturday's event for a wedding but participated in activities leading up to the race, which attracted 14,500 people for 5K walks and runs, a 5K wheelchair race and a 1K walk.

Officials figure this year's event in Seattle raised more than $1.65 million, and they said costs are 14 to 18 percent of the funds raised.

Three-quarters of the net proceeds stays in the Puget Sound area to fund breast-cancer research, education, screening and treatment programs for people like Delos Santos. The other quarter goes to Komen's national research fund to find a cure.

A parade of more than 1,000 survivors wearing pink T-shirts marched through Qwest Field after the race Saturday morning, led by a phalanx of drummers. They were cheered by a crowd of supporters wearing pink sequined ball caps, pink boas, pink cowboy hats and pink leis.

Malisa Bowen, of Covington, wiped away tears as the last group of women, survivors of more than 25 years, passed. Three women near the back of the group held hands, arms raised high above their heads.

"It's pretty emotional," said Bowen, whose friend's mother died from breast cancer. "It doesn't discriminate. It could happen to anyone."

About 182,460 women in the United States are expected to receive diagnoses of invasive breast cancer this year, including about 4,140 women in Washington, according to the American Cancer Society.

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Some women participate in the race while they are being treated, which can be difficult.

Delos Santos said she was still in treatment and depressed during her first walk.

"It's kind of overwhelming to see so many people out there," she said. "You kind of go into denial because you think, 'I don't want to be part of that group.' "

Linda Crowe, of Shoreline, had a similar feeling when she first participated in the race seven years ago, while she was in chemotherapy.

"I didn't want to be in the club. It was too emotional."

This year, Crowe returned and had fun with a group of friends, her husband, their 4-year-old daughter and golden retriever.

"It's amazing to see that it's touched so many people," she said.

Gail Katana's daughters said their mother would be part of the annual race if she had not died from breast cancer in 2005. Kimberly Walko, 24, and Kristina Wilson, 31, come every year in her memory, carrying a sign with her picture that reads "Giggles for Gail."

"She'd be really proud of us doing the walk," Walko said on Saturday. "We make it a happy day."

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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