CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - They may not be toeing the start line together, but thousands of people will still walk or run 3.1 miles the first Saturday of October as they do every year, to raise money to find a cure for breast cancer.
Komen Charlotte’s Race for the Cure is the largest 5k in the city. Roughly 20,000 people gather for in Uptown for the event. This year, it will be done virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the virus changing some traditions, men and women fighting breast cancer still need your support.
WBTV spoke with five women who are fighting, thriving, and surviving their breast cancer diagnosis.
Hope Baucom just started a new job, and didn’t want to take the time off to get a mammogram, even though she had just turned 40. But her boss and new coworkers made sure she did.
“My boss, my coworkers were like 'girl, if you don’t go get that mammogram… it will be done, quick, and easy,” she said.
Even after the tumors were discovered, she says she still couldn’t feel them herself. The diagnosis was daunting, but she never lost hope.
“Well, you don’t walk around 40 years named Hope and let something like that knock you down,” Baucom said.
Following her diagnosis, she says it was overwhelming listening to the possibilities, treatment plans, and medical jargon. At that point, she decided to take an active approach in her health. It’s something she advises all men and women to do.
“Everything that happened after that was like dominos that laid out perfectly when I decided that I was going to be the captain of this ship. I have staff that work for me. My medical team, they work for me. And I’m the captain of the ship, this is my body. I’m in charge. And I’m so glad I did that,” Baucom said.
She underwent a bilateral mastectomy and 33 rounds of radiation. She will also be on hormone therapy for the next 5 years.
In addition to playing an active role in making important decisions about her health, she encourages other people who are going through this journey to not be afraid to ask for help. She asked for help when her car broke down right before she needed to receive radiation treatments Monday through Friday.
She accepted help from an American Cancer Society program that provides patients with transportation to treatments.
“Having the audacity to ask for help is probably one of the best skills I’ve learned from this whole thing,” Baucom said.
Baucom recently returned to work, and is slowly getting back to the life she put on hold for breast cancer. She says the journey has given her a new outlook on life.
“At the point where you’re fighting something that is trying to rob you of so many things, the best thing you can do is pour love back into yourself,” Baucom said.
Angela Baker was just 32-years-old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. During her annual exam, a doctor felt something in her breast.
“They confirmed I had stage 0 DCIS which is ductal Carcinoma, which means the breast cancer is in your ducts,” Baker explained.
Baker decided to have a mastectomy. She also took a medication for 5 years. She says her doctors were certain she was at low risk of the breast cancer returning.
“I did the whole celebration and moved on with my live,” Baker said.
Seven years later, Baker was at the doctor again. This time she told the doctor about a small bump on her breast. She did not think it was anything to be concerned about but thought she would mention it since she was there.
“She asked how long it had been there and I said probably a couple of months but I just thought it was a pimple or something, so I didn’t say anything,” Baker said.
It wasn’t a pimple, doctors confirmed she had breast cancer again.
They removed the bump and she was once again cancer-free. Until 2012, when she went to Urgent Care for what she thought was a cold.
She was sent to her oncologist who told her the breast cancer had dramatically escalated.
“He confirmed that it was stage IV metastatic breast cancer,” Baker said.
There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
“So, I just look at it like this is the hand I was dealt and so I’m just going to play the hell out of it,” Baker said.
While battling cancer, Angela started a nonprofit called “Angel in Disguise.” Angel in Disguise provides people fighting cancer with transportation to and from their treatments.
In the last five years, Baker says she has driven nearly 1700 people and traveled more than 21,000 miles. Her nonprofit is funded entirely by donations.
“If I didn’t have breast cancer, I probably wouldn’t have found my purpose, which is Angel in Disguise,” Baker said. “It just brings me joy because without having transportation to get to your treatment, your life expectancy is going to go down. And I get emotional because I’m so proud of it,” Baker said.
Denise Allen noticed a lump in her breast back in 2017.
“It had gotten so large that you could not only feel it but you could see it. But I couldn’t take care of myself because I was taking care of my mom,” Allen said.
Her mother passed away, and then she went to get herself checked. Doctors diagnosed Allen with Stage II breast cancer.
“I think I did 18 rounds of chemotherapy until it was small enough to here they could remove it,” Allen said.
After her surgery, she was deemed cancer-free. But her relief only lasted about a week.
“They said we saw something on your scan, don’t know what it is but you need to come back in,” Allen said.
Allen says the cancer had spread to her colon and lungs. She was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Last week, Allen says the cancer in her lungs is gone, now they will work on treating the cancer in her colon.
Having no medical history or a history of breast cancer in her family, Allen says she was surprised to have such a rough course with the disease. She has struggled with the side effects of cancer treatments, like losing her hair.
“I was showering and felt a little bit and thought our that’s not a lot, but then by the time I got out of the shower it was all on the floor. And I was just screaming. Only thing left to do is shave your head and wonder what you look like,” Allen explained.
She says her cancer battle has not only changed her life; it has affected her entire family.
“Having my family take care of me like I was a baby. Being embarrassed, even though it’s my family—they don’t' mind doing it. But just being so sick to the point that I couldn’t even get out of bed. Trying to get to the bathroom, can’t make it,” Allen said.
She admits, it is painful and difficult to get out of bed some days, but she does her best to stay active and create some normalcy to her day. She recently picked up a new hobby. She spends her days making wreaths, like the Carolina Panthers-themed wreath that hangs on her front door. She says the crafting keeps her mind busy.
“If it wasn’t for my faith, I don’t know that I would be here. Because there are days, I’m tired, and there are days I wish I could die because I hurt so bad from the cancer. But then I remember I don’t want to leave my children or my husband. I’m grateful to feel what I feel and wake up because there are people that can’t do the same this morning,” Allen said.
Kelly Voelker noticed a lump on her breast but did not think it was anything serious. She was 36-years-old when doctors confirmed she had breast cancer.
“I think I was just in complete and total shock. Almost like I didn’t believe it,” Voelker said. “No family history, no genetic predisposition, healthy, I worked out. I felt like I was doing everything right and it still happened.”
Her life was turned upside down. She has two sons, ages 4 and 6 when she was diagnosed, and owns her own business. But After her diagnosis, she had to focus on getting healthy. She went through five months of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
Voelker is naturally a positive person, and she did her best to stay positive throughout treatment.
“You have to just sort of go through this with the vision that I’m going to be fine, I’m going to come out stronger than I was before, and I don’t think I wavered from that at all,” Voelker said.
But she admits, some days were hard. She says her two young sons knew when to pick her up when she needed it most.
"You would be astonished at how resilient kids are and so accepting. They would be like “okay!” They did not like it when I would wear a wig. They just wanted me to be bald. They said I like you just how you are, which is amazing," Voelker said.
On March 3, 2020, Voelker completed treatment. She has not had much opportunity to celebrate being cancer-free because North Carolina shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic shortly thereafter. She says she’ll be walking Komen Charlotte’s Virtual Race for the Cure with family and friends. Her battle with breast cancer has given her a newfound appreciation for life.
“Being able to get up and go for a run and to be able to wake up in the morning and feel really great, you don’t realize what a gift that is,” Voelker said. “When you go something really hard and you see a community rally around you, it makes you realize how wonderful people are.”
Every year, Dar Finkelstein received her yearly mammogram screenings and every month, she gave herself a breast exam.
She had just gotten her mammogram about five months before when she felt a lump deep in her chest.
She was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. She received radiation and hormone therapy for five years, and was deemed cancer-free.
“Sometimes I felt guilty that I didn’t have a big surgery or chemo. You would sometimes, it was a funny thing, I felt like I wasn’t sick enough.”
Thirteen years later, she woke up in the middle of the night with pain in her chest
“I felt a pain going right through my chest. And since I’m not a young chick here, I thought that was a heart attack for sure,” Finkelstein said.
The breast cancer metastasized to her bones.
“It has no cure, so I’m living with that for the rest of my life,” Finkelstein said. “After I had been diagnosed, I felt like I had lost myself. And I really needed to just stop feeling sorry for myself, stop having a pity party, and pull up my big girl pants to find out who I wanted to be for the rest of my life.”
She started reading and reflecting on herself. She decided she was going to live however long she has left with joy.
“I want to have more joy, I want to share joy, and I want to teach others to have more joy in their life,” Finkelstein said.
For the last year, she has been doing things that bring her joy. She ‘clowns’ with her husband at Make a Wish Foundation events. She also started a Facebook group ‘Choose to Live with Joy’. It has gained more than 500 members.
“It’s been a true blessing to me, and every day it gives me joy,” Finkelstein said.
She also wanted to learn more about metastatic breast cancer from other women who have it.
“There were no metastatic breast cancer groups in the Charlotte area, and I was shocked by that, so I started my own,” Finkelstein said.
She’s learning more about this sneaky disease that is the cause for so many lives lost. As you race for the cure in October, she encourages you to learn more about metastatic breast cancer. The more awareness and money raised, the closer we will get to finding a cure.
“It’s a community that needs more light shone on it,” Finkelstein said.