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News / Health / Breast Cancer

Vancouver woman’s diagnosis led to Girlfriends Run for a Cure

Woman who was inspiration for annual Girlfriends Half Marathon goes the distance as a survivor, advocate for finding a cure

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter
Published: October 8, 2017, 5:50am
7 Photos
Provided by Joleen Skarberg Joleen Skarberg, right, and her sister, Dawnell Stirkins, run the Girlfriends Run for a Cure half marathon.
Provided by Joleen Skarberg Joleen Skarberg, right, and her sister, Dawnell Stirkins, run the Girlfriends Run for a Cure half marathon. Photo Gallery

Joleen Skarberg insists she is just one of thousands of local women who have been diagnosed with the most common cancer among women.

But what’s different about the Vancouver woman’s diagnosis is it led to the creation of an event that has raised nearly $450,000 since its inception 10 years ago. Months after Skarberg’s diagnosis, her friend Sherri McMillan hosted the first Girlfriends Half Marathon (it’s now the Girlfriends Run for a Cure) as a tribute to Skarberg.

More than 400 people signed up for the inaugural event. Since then, registration has been capped at 3,000 people and the event has added race distances, changed names and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to local and national nonprofit organizations.

“The coolest thing is we started this for Joleen,” McMillan said before last year’s 10th annual event. McMillan owns Northwest Personal Training and Why Racing Events, which hosts the event.

New Glam Gals join Pink Brigade Guys in fundraising challenge

This year’s Girlfriends Run for a Cure will feature two race distances, a mini marathon for kids and the popular Pink Brigade Guys.

But new this year is a female equivalent of the Pink Brigade: the Glam Gals.

Men in the Pink Brigade Guys must raise at least $500, either by donating the money themselves, collecting money from friends and family or getting a company to sponsor them. The money they raise benefits the Pink Lemonade Project, a Vancouver-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering breast cancer survivors.

Last year, 53 men raised $46,000.

This year, Pink Lemonade Project is partnering with GLAMBeauty Bar to launch the Glam Gals.

Like the Pink Brigade, Glam Gals participants commit to raising $500 for Pink Lemonade Project. In return, GLAMBeauty Bar pays their race entry fee. Top fundraising Glam Gals will also be eligible for prizes, such as special parties, gift certificates for services and private makeup lessons, said Brittany Pratt, executive director for Pink Lemonade Project.

“We’re trying to make a competition between the Glam Gals and the Pink Brigade Guys to see who can raise the most money,” Pratt said.

The money raised through last year’s event enabled the nonprofit to make its popular cancer survivor retreats free of charge for attendees.

Money raised through entry fees for the main running events — the half-marathon and quarter-marathon — benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The Kids Mini-Marathon — a 1.1 mile run for kids 16 and younger — will benefit the Children’s Center, a nonprofit that provides mental health services to children and families in Clark County.

A shocking diagnosis

Skarberg, who was 55 at the time, received a mammogram in July 2006. That December, she felt something in her left breast. The area was tender; she assumed she had pulled a muscle while working out. But a visit to the doctor in February 2007 revealed Skarberg had an aggressive, hormone-receptive breast cancer.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I was completely shocked.”

Skarberg underwent three surgeries before doctors were confident they removed all of the cancerous tissue. The surgeries were followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and nearly eight weeks of daily radiation treatment.

A few weeks after completing radiation, Skarberg ran in the first Girlfriends half-marathon.

“That was a pretty emotional run,” she said.

Skarberg, 65, hasn’t had any cancer recurrences since her original diagnosis 10 years ago. She sees her doctor once a year and continues to take an oral breast cancer drug. She’s also been working with a cancer nutritionist and has stuck with her regular exercise routine. Every October, that exercise routine includes the Girlfriends run.

“It’s a special run,” Skarberg said.

And the goal of the event — to raise money to fight, and eventually eliminate, breast cancer — is one Skarberg will always support.

“Yes, I had it,” Skarberg said of breast cancer. “But I’m one of many. We need to get rid of this.”

If You Go

What: Girlfriends Run for a Cure half-marathon (13.1 miles) and quarter-marathon (6.55 miles), Pink Brigade Guys/Glam Gals, and Kids Mini-Marathon (1.1 miles).

When: 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 15.

Where: Vancouver Landing, 100 Columbia St. Vancouver.

Why: Benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Pink Lemonade Project and the Children’s Center.

Registration: Cost for the quarter- and half-marathon is $75. Kids Mini Marathon is $30. Register online, http://regtorace.com/event/213, through Oct. 13. Registration is also available at packet pick-up and the day of the race, but prices increase $5-10.

Information: http://whyracingevents.com/event/934

Columbian Health Reporter