1012 Race for the Cure
Birmingham's Race for the Cure Founder Carol Cauthen, center, with Thelma Brown and Rebecca DiPiazio.
When more than 15,000 registrants lace up their sneakers and descend on Linn Park for Birmingham’s 21st annual Race for the Cure on October 20, most won’t know they’ve got quiet and unassuming Carol Robertson Cauthen to thank for the event.
Cauthen began her battle with breast cancer in 1982 when the medical community knew little about the disease. After her diagnosis, she underwent a modified radical mastectomy and began the long healing process.
“My diagnosis was prior to Betty Ford, prior to Nancy Reagan,” Cauthen said. “And at that time, women just didn’t talk about it. [Likewise], the doctor didn’t know what to tell me [about breast forms]. Basically, they just did the surgery and you went on your merry way. Without any guidance or support, I had to do all the research on my own.”
Research proved to be an effective step in her recovery, and Cauthen said she was educating doctors before her treatment was complete.
Her research into the disease eventually led her beyond local medicine and into outreach. During a support group meeting at Brookwood Medical Center, Cauthen met with Nancy Brinker, sister of Susan G. Komen and founder of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Soon after, the idea of hosting a Birmingham race began to grow. With the backing of Brinker, a partnership with the American Cancer Society and the involvement of 10 Birmingham-area hospitals, plans for the inaugural race were set into swift motion.
Now entering its third decade, the city’s Race for the Cure continues to break its own fundraising records, with 75 percent of proceeds reinvested locally. The organization is also a recipient of grant funding, which she uses to further outreach and education campaigns.
“The first grant that we did was (used to screen) medically underserved women,” Cauthen said. “We paid for the x-rays, but our network of area hospitals donated the time to take and read the x-rays.”
Cauthen added that one of the biggest grants the organization has been awarded devoted $6 million to study triple-negative breast cancer, a form of the disease diagnosed in up to 20 percent of patients and does not respond to hormone treatments.
After her mastectomy, Cauthen said she found it difficult to keep a positive outlook while undergoing the extensive healing process. Soon after, she opened Touching You, a Hoover retail store devoted exclusively to the garment and personal care needs of cancer patients
“Throughout this experience, I realized that a positive attitude and personal appearance would be very important in my recovery,” Cauthen wrote on the store’s website, touchingyou.com.
“However, the experience of purchasing wigs, breast forms and other necessary items to meet my needs, proved exhausting and frustrating.”
Cauthen’s obvious compassion and can-do spirit make for contagious enthusiasm, which she brings out in full force each year at the race. With the same vigor and no-holds-barred advice she dispenses in her store, Cauthen hosts an annual survivors’ breakfast on the morning of the race. It is a time when she can empower and educate both newly diagnosed women and longtime survivors.
“We want the survivors to get involved with the race,” Cauthen said. “This is a positive way for them to educate people about breast cancer and find a cure for it so that our daughters and our granddaughters won’t have to go through the same thing.”
This year’s Race for the Cure will be held on October 20. For more information or to register, visit komenncalabama.org.