LSU awash in pink for ‘Race for the Cure’

When they crossed the finish line together Saturday morning clad in identical pink shirts and clutching matching pink flowers, sisters Teal Wintz and Angela Watts smiled.

For the third time, the two sisters, who each overcame breast cancer, walked stride for stride at the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure at LSU, discussing their treatments, the side effects from the treatment and anything else that popped into their heads.

Wintz, 62, an 11-year survivor, and Watts, 57, a five-year survivor — attend the race every year they can to see familiar faces and to be sounding boards for those who are still battling and looking for advice.

“It’s helpful for people who just found out and to know that there are so many who survived, it’s not a death sentence,” Mintz said.

For the 18th year, people poured into the capital city from all corners of the state for the Race for the Cure to be with loved ones fighting the disease, to honor those who lost the battle and to gain inspiration from those who won.

The 5-kilometer run/walk is the main fundraiser for the Baton Rouge affiliate of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which serves a 10-parish area.

“It’s nice to see people who are surviving and doing well,” said survivor Renée Lee, 57, of Zachary.

She lost a niece and cousin to breast cancer, so when she runs, she runs not only for them but for people she never met before who are battling like she did.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, it just pulls at your heartstrings,” she said.

Platoons of partiers packing pink wigs, tutus and leggings walked, jogged and ran the winding course that touches nearly every nook and cranny on LSU’s campus.

The race began on Nicholson Extension, weaved down West and North Stadium drives and meandered along Dalrymple and West Lakeshore drives before making its way down West Parker Boulevard and back to Nicholson Extension.

Volunteers cheered people plodding through the final stages of the course, handing out pink roses to breast cancer survivors and refreshments to the competitors as they crossed the finish line.

For Melanie Musselman, 51, of Prairieville, it’s all about supporting a friend.

Every year, she and her daughters walk at the event, but this year is special for the family because, for the first time, they are honoring a friend, Darlene Rayburn, who survived a recent bout with breast cancer.

Musselman, who was part of a team nearly three dozen strong walking in support of Rayburn, said she is amazed by the outpouring of support the foundation gets every year.

“It’s overwhelming to know it touches so many people’s lives whether they know it or not,” she said. “It just touches my heart.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 2.8 million women in the country are battling breast cancer and about 12 percent of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes.

Krista Allen, race director for the Race for the Cure, said there were at least 10,000 registered participants but surmised there were more who walked but did not register.

Allen said Baton Rouge is the top in the country in mortality rate for breast cancer, so something needs to be done to improve in all areas.

“I think that’s what today is all about,” Allen said. “Moving the needle, changing that statistic.”

The survivors were the stars of the show Saturday, evidenced by the “survivor recognition ceremony” held before the 5k race. But the event is also about the families and what they went through or are currently going through as loved ones battle the disease.

Perry Parrino, 53, of Baton Rouge, was one of about 70 to 75 people wearing pink camouflage shirts supporting “Melissa’s Militia,” which was formed in honor of his wife, Melissa Parrino, who is battling stage 4 breast cancer.

“I’m trying to let her draw strength from me, but it’s not happening,” he said. “I’m struggling.”

But Parrino is happy to see the outpouring of support his wife has from friends, family and people she connected with on Facebook.

“I feel like she needed kind of a mental pick-me-up and this is a huge pick-me-up,” he said.