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Tawn Talk: Mother's Day tradition to help Race for the Cure

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jan Pakler | for The Herald
Tawnya Panizzi

There's a few days each year when it's normal to spring out of bed before the birds start chirping.

The first day of summer vacation, where in my house we eat ice cream for breakfast to reward a year's worth of hard school work and usher in a long summer full of bike riding, baseball and backyard play dates.

And there's Christmas, no matter how old you are, to see if the fat man in the red suit left anything under the tree.

For me, it's Mother's Day. And not just because eight years ago I became a mom.

My rise-and-shine routine predates that miracle.

On the second Sunday in May, I join my friends and family, and my own mother and daughter, to participate in the Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure. The three-mile walk through Pittsburgh's scenic Schenley Park attracts more than 36,000 participants to join the fight against breast cancer. In its 21st year, the local affiliate typically brings in more than $2 million and has grown to become one of the Top 10 breast cancer fundraisers across the country.

Much of the money is used to provide free mammograms to women — and men — in need throughout the 30 counties served by the local chapter.

Don't forget, breast cancer strikes both sexes and is the most prevalent cancer in the world today, with about 1.3 million people diagnosed annually.

One in eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

Converging into that sea of pink each year, however, makes me feel like we can combat those numbers. It makes me believe that we can kick cancer's butt and that maybe a cure is just around the corner.

There's something about driving into Oakland's Schenley Park that morning that evokes a sense of familiarity and hopefulness. Even before the sun is shining, groups of walkers drenched in pink are making their way along Fifth Avenue to the starting point. Some are decked out in pink boas and tutus, others have fuschia-colored capes flowing behind them.

There are dogs with pink sweaters — and some with pink fur. Even the dinosaur at the entrance of the Carnegie Museum wears a pink scarf.

That solidarity in itself is enough to make you feel like you're on the winning team. But it's the less overt signs that really get to me every year. Throughout the day, I take the time to read the “celebratory” and “memoriam” bibs pinned to walkers' white T-shirts.

“I walk for my wife,” the small sign might say.

“My mom is my hero,” another might read, along with a picture of a smiling stranger who you're suddenly rooting for.

“I walk for me — 5-year survivor!”

There's almost no one who has escaped the effects of cancer.

I started walking all those years ago to honor my grandmother, one of the people I loved most in this world and someone who fought valiantly against all types of cancer for 20 years. She lost her battle in 1995 and I still pin a bib to my shirt to celebrate her spirit.

These days, however, my immediate focus has turned to the future.

Today, I walk for my daughter, in hopes that she can live in a world where cancer is a non-issue. Someday, I hope she doesn't have to spring out of bed at the crack of dawn to do the cancer walk. Instead, she can spend her Mother's Day morning on something else, like say, making me breakfast in bed.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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