Son Moved to Volunteer by Mother’s Battle

Guest post by Michael Corey, Student, Ohio State Moritz College of Law
Komen Columbus Volunteer and Communications Committee Member

The first time I participated in the Race for the Cure, I took it far too literally. Before the Family Fun Walk turned into the juggernaut it has become, it was a more sparsely attended complement to the Race itself. Too young to run 3.1 miles, I partook in the mile-long stroll; but being a competitive adolescent prone to fits of energy, I decided at some point to sprint past the bemused—or perhaps annoyed—adults walking with more sensible children. I crossed the finish line first and awaited my mother, who ran the full Race that day for the first and last time.

She was crying when she approached the finish line, and beckoned me to join her. We crossed together, and my mother—just a few years prior to her initial diagnosis of breast cancer—explained her tears. She was still mourning the loss of her two aunts, both of whom had passed away in recent months to breast cancer; this was her way of expressing herself, and of showing her resolve to beat the disease.

Michael and his mom, Georgeann, at the 2006 Race for the Cure.

The desire then was still raw and unfocused, as was my understanding of it. My feelings were similarly ambiguous when my mother’s diagnosis came in February 1996. With good fortune and aggressive treatment in the months and years to come, with determination and optimism and love and support from my father and family and friends, my mother eventually defeated breast cancer, and the uterine cancer that percolated shortly thereafter.

An intensely private woman, my mother soon began to reconsider her commitment to Race for the Cure. Perhaps she would do more than participate one day out of the year, and would instead volunteer with Komen Columbus. She was reluctant, however, because volunteering with the Foundation would mean that she would also have to share her story. I told my mother that this was something she ought not shy away from—she would be with women who had traversed the same tumultuous path, perhaps women who had done so as privately as she had. This was now a chance to use her fight to help others, while also providing a chance to help herself.

Such was a lesson I had learned through my own experience as a child of an ailing parent. I had found comfort in interacting with friends whose parents had fought various diseases, and it made sense that if my mother could interact with women who had fought similarly as her, that solace and healing would result. And in time, my mother opted to join the fight full time as a volunteer. That was over a decade ago.

She has been crusading against cancer ever since.

Her role grew over the years, culminating in her beloved role as the Race’s co-Development Director. Donations more than doubled during her tenure, a feat that contributed to her winning the Komen Foundation’s National Volunteer of the Year Award in 2006. Just as importantly, the friends she made in the years she volunteered for Komen are still counted among her closest; they’ve changed her life as much as I hope she changed the lives of others with all her hard work.

As this retelling suggests, the reason I began to get involved with the Race for the Cure was my mother. She brought both my father and me into the Komen family, as participants on Race day, as phone bankers in the weeks leading up to the Race, as distributors of yard signs, and as fervent supporters of the cause itself. After my father passed away in the winter of 2005, my mother redoubled her efforts to the organization—as I did upon graduating from college that spring. I began to write stories about survivors in Columbus, ranging from one of the founders of Komen Columbus to one of the oldest survivors in the state, a woman who was treated by Arthur James before the hospital was built that bears his name.

In this task, I also had the opportunity to profile former WBNS reporter Heather Pick and her family. Armed with an optimism in the face of peril that was almost unnerving, Heather lost her composure only once over the course of the several hours I was fortunate enough to spend with her and her husband. Sitting together in a restaurant over lunch, Heather offered that recent news had come from the doctors that was less encouraging than they had hoped. “We’ll just keep fighting; I want to be here in a year to keep on fighting with my husband and children.”

Heather touched so many lives with her fight that this community was and remains crestfallen over her passing. Here in spirit, though, she is fighting on, that battle having been taken up by the army of volunteers she inspired to take up the cause or to rededicate themselves to it. That army includes people from all walks of life, from all political persuasions, from all religious faiths. 50,000 people raced against it this past May, putting our Race among the largest in the country.

We may have planned to win this race against cancer sooner, but we must all cross that finish line no matter the challenges that come. And no organization does more to further that cause than Komen Columbus; I am grateful to be one of its volunteers.

I walked the Race this year, the first time I have walked rather than run since my very first Race so many years ago. Where I finished was no longer important to me; I walked with friends this time, and came upon my mother who had already made it through the Survivors’ Chute. Sitting beside a banner she had made memorializing my father at the corner of Gay and High Streets, we hugged and cried, in joy and sadness, at how far we’ve come, and how far there is yet to go. Each Race takes us a step closer, but there is no time to waste.

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