A survivor races for a very personal cure

Magnolia resident and 'Race for the Cure' volunteer Char Davis knows the devastating impact of cancer

What is it like living with a medical time bomb ticking away inside you?

For Magnolia resident Char Davis, 61, it has meant turning anger into action.

Davis and many of her seven siblings and relatives have been cursed by nature. They were born with a gene that was passed on to them by their mother’s side of the family. Scientists now recognize this is, in some way, a trigger that often leads to the development of cancer. 

The resulting casualty list from one of life’s ultimate opponents has devastated Davis’ family for more than three generations.

Her mother’s mother was 36 years old when she died. Exactly why isn’t known, but doctors are almost positive that she suffered from cancer. Davis’ mother, Joy, died of breast cancer at 46 years old. Her two aunts, Ellen and Rose, also died from the disease. Three of Davis’ first cousins have developed breast cancer, with one losing the battle.

Davis and two of her sisters have survived bouts with breast cancer. However, her brother, John, passed away in 2009 from prostate cancer.

The family is so unique in this respect that, for many years, some members have been taking part in a long-term cancer study at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Members of the family have wrestled with the idea of whether to have children and how to live their lives.

“I’ve known since 2000 that I carried the gene,” Davis said. “My brothers and sisters who haven’t yet gotten cancer didn’t inherit the gene. My doctor told me that it isn’t a matter of if, but when you will develop cancer if you have this gene.”

But Davis has learned that having the gene isn’t a death sentence. She developed breast cancer in 2005. At the same time, her sister Lori was sick with cancer in Spokane, and her brother, John, was being treated in Portland. They didn’t survive. 

“The three of us were in three different hospitals at the same time,” Davis said. 

Today, she is healthy and cancer-free. Her survival and the deaths of so many family members has inspired Davis to become a leader in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. 


Upcoming Race for the Cure

The organization is a global leader in raising money for breast-cancer research and for supporting sufferers who can’t afford treatment. 

Since its inception in 1982, when Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever, the organization has raised more than $1.9 billion for breast-cancer treatment. 

In fact, Susan G. Komen died from breast cancer at age 36, the same age as Davis’ grandmother.

Over the years, Davis has increased her involvement with the Susan G. Komen organization. This year, she is serving as the racecourse chairperson for the Seattle Race for the Cure. Next year, she may be chairperson for the entire event. 

This year’s race will be take place Sunday, June 5. There are a series of races beginning at 8 a.m. from Seattle Center, including 5K runs, a one-mile walk and a kids’ race. 

If participants don’t want to actually run or walk but still want to support the cause, they can take part in the “Sleep in for the Cure,” in which family and friends donate money to a team or individual running or walking. 

It is estimated that more than 14,000 people will take part in this year’s Race for the Cure.


Changing attitudes

Davis first got involved with the Komen organization in 2006, when she formed a team called “The Pride of the Double J,” named after her mother, Joy, and brother, John. 

“I wanted to honor the people who went before us,” Davis said. “I’ve found, over the years, that one of my callings is to fight this disease. You have to take the anger you’ve had for all these years about how unfair this disease is and turn it into something positive.”

And Davis has had plenty of anger built up, not just for the way the disease has singled out her family but also for the strange way in which people treat the illness. 

She remembers, while growing up in rural Winthrop, Wash., how cancer was treated as if it were a taboo illness and spoken of only rarely. 

She said when her mother became ill, her symptoms were dismissed as just the flu and that she was a bit depressed. 

It was only after a couple of months that Davis’ father finally said something was very wrong and drove Davis’ mother to Wenatchee, Wash., where she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“When I was growing up, even when my mother was diagnosed, people acted like cancer was some kind of a sin,” Davis said. “We were pretty mad for a long time about that.”

Davis said the attitude about cancer has changed dramatically in recent years, but that more work is still needed.

Her “Double J” team has raised thousands of dollars for cancer research and to help pay for those who are unable to afford cancer treatment. Davis said she was one of the lucky ones who had excellent health-care benefits. But many sufferers, especially in these tough economic times, cannot afford treatment. 


Solidarity in numbers

Davis also takes part in the Komen race because she finds strength and solace by being with so many of her fellow cancer survivors who take part in the various events. 

Perhaps most important is the inspirational “Survivors Parade” that takes place later in the day, when as many as 900 cancer survivors walk around the Seattle Center’s International Fountain in solidarity with the cause of finding a cure.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” Davis said of the Survivor Parade. “It is so emotional to do that walk and to think about all the people who have come before you and are not here today to do this walk with you.” 

On yet another tragic note, Davis has decided at the last minute to re-launch her “Double J” team after she learned that her cousin, Patty, is the latest family member losing the battle with cancer. The team has only been soliciting donations for the last few weeks, and they have already raised more than $2,600. She vows to raise much more by race time.

“I still have a number of people I haven’t yet terrorized for donations,” Davis said.

For those wanting to know more about this year’s Komen Race for the Cure, visit www.komenpugetsound.org or call (206) 633.6586.

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