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A Walk for Maggie

Melissa Maganas and her friends and family will walk this Sunday’s Race for the Cure in honor of her mother, Maggie, who worked to educate fellow Latina women about breast cancer.

On Sunday morning, Melissa Maganas will walk five kilometers with a team she has dubbed “This One’s For Maggie.”

Though Maganas has participated in the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure since 1994, this year’s event will be especially poignant. Maganas will be honoring her mother, Maggie, who died of cancer last summer.

She’ll also be promoting Maggie Maganas’ cause. After being diagnosed with cancer, the elder Maganas began meeting with fellow Hispanic women to talk about cancer diagnosis and treatment. Melissa Maganas isn’t a fluent Spanish speaker like her mother, but she wants to do what she can to further her mother’s mission.

“I feel like it’s my role to step in for my mother where she left off,” Maganas said.

Maganas is just one of the walkers and runners dedicated to raising cancer awareness at this year’s Race for the Cure. Susan G. Komen of Puget Sound hopes to raise $1.8 million and attract 15,000 participants at the event.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation organizes Race for the Cure events across the country. The Puget Sound group is just one of 122 affiliates nationwide. Since one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, the group’s efforts resonate with many on a very personal level.

Maganas has been closely touched by cancer more than once. At just 24 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Maganas survived, and began recruiting a team to walk in Race for the Cure every year.

One of the team’s biggest advocates was Maganas’ mother. Maggie drove to Seattle from Yakima each year to march alongside her daughter. Later, when she herself became ill from cancer, she would support the other women from the sideline.

“Even when she was sick, she’d be our biggest cheerleader,” Maganas said.

Maggie Maganas didn’t just support her daughter. After her cancer diagnosis, Maggie reached out to other Latinas living in the Yakima area. Through North Star Lodge Cancer Treatment Center, where she received medical care, Maggie learned of a female cancer support group. Most of the women were Latinas.

Maggie soon discovered that many Hispanic women did not feel comfortable openly talking about breast cancer, their bodies, and their health. She began encouraging them to speak about their illness, and also to reach out to fellow Latinas who should be screening themselves for cancer.

According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, early cancer detection is the best way to combat the disease. When women discover breast cancer early on, 98 percent of them survive five years or longer. The Komen Foundation advocates regular mammograms, clinical breast exams, and breast self-awareness.

While women of all ethnicities sometimes fail to monitor their own bodies for cancer, the problem can be particularly acute among Latinas. According to the Komen Foundation, Hispanic women are less likely to get regular mammograms and to promptly follow-up with their doctors if they receive abnormal mammogram results. As a result, Latinas are more often diagnosed after they’ve reached the later stages of breast cancer.

The reasons for late diagnosis among Hispanic women include language barriers, lower income, lower levels of education, less access to health care, lack of health insurance, and lack of awareness of breast cancer risks, the Komen Foundation said.

Cultural differences also contribute to the divide. Maganas believes many Hispanic women aren’t accustomed to talking about their bodies.

“I think Hispanic women have a tendency to be more modest,” Maganas said. “They aren’t as honest about what’s going on with them.”  

Maggie Maganas tried to surmount those hurdles. At the support group in Yakima, she became a discussion leader because she could speak both Spanish and English. The women who felt more comfortable expressing themselves in Spanish were more apt to share their stories and fears with her.

Maggie also wanted to take cancer education beyond the support group. She began handing out shower cards with Spanish instructions on breast self-exams to women in the Yakima community.

Melissa Maganas knows how much her mother meant to Latinas in Yakima because many of them came to her memorial service after she passed away. They shared stories about Maggie and talked about how she helped them feel less isolated.

“My mom was there for them,” Melissa Maganas said.

Now that Maggie Maganas is no longer alive, Melissa hopes to continue some of her education efforts. Melissa recently did an interview for the bilingual publication Tú Decides, and wants to come up with other ways to spread cancer awareness to the Hispanic population.

On Sunday morning, Melissa Maganas and 10 friends and family members will meet at her house in West Seattle. Some family members will drive over from Yakima for the event. Melissa and her teammates will drink coffee, eat pastries, and then head to the Race for the Cure walk.

During the walk, Melissa Maganas will wear a pink cancer survivor’s T-shirt. She’ll also pin a bib to her shirt that says “In Memory of Maggie Maganas.”

“My mom would be thrilled,” Maganas said.

Maganas believes the walk will both honor her mother and empower the women who participate.

“It’s inspiring to see so many people supporting women,” Maganas said. “There’s so much emotional energy.”

Race for the Cure takes place this Sunday, June 5. The run and walk begins at the Seattle Center:  3rd & Mercer (starting line) and Fisher Pavillion (finish line). Registration is at 7 a.m. and the race starts at 8 a.m.

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