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Racing for a Reason - Team Leaders from in the 2nd Annual Race to Beat Women’s Cancers Reflect on Their Experience

By: Gina Edwards

Since 2021, the Race to Beat Women’s Cancers 5K Run/Walk held at North Park has raised funds to support research in women’s cancers and patient care at Magee-Womens Research Institute, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. The event was co-hosted by A Glimmer of Hope Foundation. Although inclement weather canceled the 2022 RBWC, we still raised funds to support this important work in women’s health.

Team leaders for the Race fostered community among participants near and far, hit new fundraising records, and inspired hope for the future.

Kristin Hughes | Hughes Halfway Thru Crew

On the morning of the 2022 Race to Beat Women’s Cancers (RBWC), the thunder rolled, the lightning flashed, and the rain came down. But amidst the storm, a sea of blue T-shirts united: Hughes Halfway Thru Crew. The energetic bunch converged in support of Kristin Hughes and the milestone marker she had just hit in her journey with cancer: halfway through chemotherapy treatment.

When Kristin received her cancer diagnosis in mid May of 2022, her life changed. She recognized how privileged she was to have access to excellent health care and social support through her community

“When I heard ‘you have cancer,’ it was devastating. Life is suddenly interrupted. The glass that was once half full suddenly looks half empty. You are trapped in two opposing time zones. In one, the fear makes time stop. In the other, it feels like your life is racing toward an ultimate finish line ... one you know you’re not ready to cross. It is easy to get stuck in between these zones,” Hughes says. “Cancer is also full of emotional dualities: despair vs. hope, crudeness vs. grace, ugliness vs. beauty. Despite how miserable I felt, I would try to wake up with a positive mindset and go to bed grateful for the beauty and joy in my life. Much of this came from the simple acts of kindness from family and friends, reaffirming that I mattered and that we’ll get through cancer together.”

The RBWC became an avenue to raise awareness about gynecological cancers and fund research to continue the work for future generations.

“The Race venue brought all of us together. Family and friends from all aspects of my life met for the first time, sharing stories, laughing, and connecting the dots. The conversations that were happening during that 5K were pretty magical,” Kristin says. “The Race also allowed all of us the opportunity to come together in action to support all 90,000 women with gynecological cancer despite their socio-economic backgrounds and access to health care.”

Even though the RBWC event did not occur as planned, the Halfway Thru Crew took to the track, walked side-by-side, and gathered for brunch afterward. The brightness of the Crew shone through the rain that morning. More than 100 participants, locally and across the country, in New York, Cincinnati, Miami, and other locations walked together. They had been fundraising and supporting Kristin throughout the summer. By Race Day, the group had raised nearly $15,000, with donations ranging from $10 to the thousands.

Though she never imagined being a spokesperson for gynecological cancer, Kristin hopes that events like the RBWC encourage more open dialogue and reduce the stigma many women face during menopause. She had the courage to talk with a friend who was listening to all the right things and encouraged her to ‘check in’ with her doctor. She adds that her participation in the RBWC became an outlet for action and empowerment during a terrifying time.

“It felt productive,” Kristin says. “It was a way to channel my gratitude and respect for the doctors and nurses at Magee. So, the Race, pulling together the dream team and putting together a strong front felt like, ‘This is the way Kristin’s going to handle cancer.’”

Tiffany Boehme | Keep Tiffany Alive!

When it comes to raising money for cancer research, Tiffany Boehme is competitive.

In the past, she’s played cow patty bingo at the VFW to support a cousin with medical bills from cancer, and even donned a full gown and dress shoes to paddle 20-foot dragon boats with the Pink Steel team.

Tiffany, who has metastatic breast cancer, goes to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital every week for chemotherapy and considers it a second home. When she learned about the Race to Beat Women’s Cancers event, she saw it as an opportunity to give back to the hospital.

“All nurses there are like family. They listen, they love me, they ask about my kids, they know me when I walk through the door,” Tiffany says. “I’d do anything for them. I’ve not had one negative experience with Magee.”

When Tiffany signed up for the Race to Beat Women’s Cancers, she also hoped it would be a distraction from a preventive hysterectomy scheduled in September 2022. She wanted to direct her energy into doing something to occupy her time and fundraising ahead of the Labor Day weekend event seemed to be the perfect fit.

Tiffany’s team name, Keep Tiffany Alive!, speaks to the nature of her diagnosis and what is sometimes referred to as “the pink elephant in the room.”

“What people don’t realize is that for metastatic breast cancer, there is no cure. When they heard I got cancer, they don’t realize that you can’t beat it. They don’t realize that this is my life for the rest of my life: shots in my hip once a month, hysterectomy, hip replacement. This is my life now,” she says. “There’s nothing there for me to kick its ass with. So, I’m doing what I can to Keep Tiffany Alive.”

Along with the support of her family and friends, Tiffany set fundraising goals that she kept beating. Initially, her goal of $1,000 was reached within a week. Then, $2,000 and up. Tiffany’s husband and children helped spread the word through their school networks, flyers in their local gym, and putting out calls on social media. The group planned to wear green — Tiffany’s favorite color.

By Race Day, the Keep Tiffany Alive! team had raised nearly $7,500. But Tiffany is already looking forward to next year’s Race.

“I hope I can turn this into an every-year thing. I hope it grows and grows,” she says. “I’m going to try to beat the previous year and one-up myself every year.”