In the same year as the birth of her son, Sarah Fernandez-Mendoza discovered warning signs of the disease that would take her life.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, she underwent surgery that removed the tumor later in the year. But she died five years later after the cancer metastasized and spread.
Inspired by her commitment to charitable efforts, Fernandez-Mendoza’s husband, Sergio Mendoza, took up the fight against breast cancer, partnering his ring-making business with Susan G. Komen For the Cure, a foundation that raises money for research. He founded his own fundraising team and became one of the organization’s top contributors in Florida.
“When you’re touched by breast cancer, you no longer take for granted the fact that you’re alive,” Mendoza said. “It’s about coming together with people that are happy to be alive in spite of being affected, and it’s a very emotional event.”
Mendoza served as the event chair for the More Than Pink breast cancer walk on Oct. 14. At the annual event, this year held at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, his family’s story was one among many.
The event goal: Raise $600,000 and celebrate the lives of breast cancer survivors as well as those who lost their lives.
Susan G. Komen is the world’s leading nonprofit breast cancer organization, devoting millions of raised earnings every year to breast cancer research and treatment.
Undeterred by distant thunder and sporadic rain, thousands gathered at the starting gate near the event stage, heading off on the 2.1 mile-long walk with cheers and applause once the clock hit 9:10 a.m.
Hip-hop hits like “Wobble” and “Cupid Shuffle” blared from speakers, inspiring some attendees to meet near the stage and dance together.
The dancers gathered near the “We Remember” pavilion, which was dedicated to the memories of loved ones both alive and passed.
Many wrote messages for departed friends and family on note cards, clipping one atop another on the tent’s roof.
One read: “In loving memory of my mom Emma Roundtree. She fought a good battle; passed away in 2001. Now I’m fighting her battle –Faith.”
To Giovanni Arango, the event had powerful significance. He lost his closest cousin to breast cancer earlier this year.
Arango wore a hand-made cape to honor his cousin, with the words, “I’m running for Nana Parra” adorning his back.
“We’re still fighting for a cure,” said Arango. “Breast cancer is a disease that affects one in eight women, and it doesn’t discriminate. It can be anybody.”
Part of the venue was dedicated to tents housing the event’s top fundraising teams, but Team DLIMERS had a section that was all their own.
Members of the 320-strong group met at the team’s tent after they crossed the finish line, where they were treated to Caribbean and Jamaican cuisine and music from the team’s DJ.
DLIMERS, which comes from the Caribbean term ‘liming,’ meaning hanging out with friends, was started by married couple Carla and Marlon Hill in 2003 with the goal of bringing South Florida’s Caribbean and Black communities together to raise money for breast cancer programs.
Carla Hill faced breast cancer both in 2005 and 2007, choosing a mastectomy in both cases. As a survivor, she believes looking out for one’s own health is crucial.
“Young women and young men need to be aware of their bodies and any slight change in bodies. They need to be aware, and see a doctor as soon as possible so they can do what’s best for them,” she said.
Over $500,000 dollars were raised come the walk’s end, but the window for donations will stay open until Nov. 12.
To ensure they reach their goal, the Komen Foundation will hold the ONE Day Challenge on Oct. 20, which encourages South Floridians to help raise $50,000 in a single day.
Douglas Esquire, DJ and co-host of the More Than Pink Walk, knows the search for a cure for breast cancer is far from over, but believes that donations from the community will make it a reality.
“There’s a lot of heroes here today,” said Esquire. “We’re still here to fight, and the fight continues until we don’t have to do this anymore.”
You can learn more about the Susan G. Komen Foundation at their website.