As The DONNA Foundation’s 15th annual marathon brings the breast cancer community together, two “streakers” discuss why they continue to participate in every marathon.
More than 4,000 runners participated in person during the 15th annual DONNA Marathon Weekend on Feb. 4-6, 2022, in Jacksonville, Florida, with thousands more participating virtually. In-person and virtual participants included runners from all 50 states and eight countries who ran various distances including 5K, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons.
DONNA Marathon Weekend is a survivorship event of The DONNA Foundation, whose mission is to provide financial assistance and support to individuals living with breast cancer and fund groundbreaking research.
This event welcomes patients, survivors and supporters to celebrate survivorship and fundraise for the foundation’s programs. This year marked the return of an in-person race, which had been fully virtual in 2021 due to COVID-19.
Throughout the event’s 15 years, several runners, whom the Foundation refers to as “streakers,” have participated in every single race. CURE® spoke with Loretta Haycook-Haught, who ran the marathon in person this year and has run since the event began.
“That call can come any day that says, ‘We have breast cancer’ or ‘Someone in our family has it,’” Haycook-Haught said. “If there’s something, anything we can do to treat it better, to prevent it, to cure it, to have better medications, to have support for the family while undergoing treatment, it’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we do it?”
Haycook-Haught, a lactation consultant from Florida, has had several connections with breast cancer, including her older sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago, underwent a double mastectomy and treatment and has since been in remission. More recently, her best friend’s daughter, a mother of three children, died from metastatic breast cancer three years ago at the age of 35.
Haycook-Haught also continues to run this race for all women including her daughter, Christine, because breast cancer can affect so many women.
Tracy Dawson, a language arts teacher from Florida, is also a DONNA Marathon Weekend “streaker,” who ran this year’s race virtually. In fact, the first DONNA Marathon in 2008 was the first marathon she had ever run.
“I didn’t run a marathon to run a marathon; I ran a marathon for the foundation,” Dawson said about her very first marathon. “It was really near and dear to my heart. … I remember really, really struggling the last few miles and went, ‘Lord, just give me some strength.’ I opened my eyes and this woman, who was clearly physically going through (cancer) treatment, passed me. I went, ‘OK, got the sign. Perfect. Let’s go.’”
Dawson said that since then, she has drawn strength from patients with breast cancer, whose names she writes on her shirts every year.
Like Haycook-Haught, Dawson has not personally experienced breast cancer, but has seen what it can do through the experiences of her mother-in-law, extended family, friends and cousins.
“I’ve watched what it takes to go through diagnosis, through surgery, through any type of treatment plan, whether that’s chemo, radiation or both. And it’s very inspiring to me,” Dawson said.
Excitement for marathon weekend starts weeks before the event itself.
“All the excitement is because it’s in our own community. Everybody knows the DONNA Marathon,” Haycook-Haught said. “It’s for all levels of runners. I do the marathon, but there are runs for little ones doing a one-mile dash, and there are 5Ks, 10Ks and people who want to do the 110-mile run. (It’s) for all abilities, all levels, no speed involved. … The weekend, the event is all about community, seeing friends and people that you haven’t seen in a while, but knowing you’re all connected. It’s a great cause and a great weekend. We’re fortunate to have it.”
Dawson said not only is the marathon emotional, but so is the exposition that takes place during the weekend.
“The expo is amazing,” she said. “You have all sorts of inspiring messages. I love that you can sign the placards that go along the race. … You walk in, everything’s pink, everyone’s kind and there’s all sorts of interesting, inspiring notes.”
Dawson added that the people at the DONNA Marathon Weekend — runners or otherwise — add to the sense of community felt throughout the event.
“I’ve done a lot of other races, not just marathons, … you say thank you to someone who’s cheering you on or … to an officer who’s closing the road and letting you go by, (but) this is the only race where you say thank you and the fans thank you back,” she said. “I remember the first time I ran (the) DONNA just going, wow. It’s different. There (are) people lining the streets that have either battled (or are) still battling (cancer), had family or friends that are no longer on Earth, and they’re just like, ‘Thank you for doing this for us.’ … And it’s every year. It never changes.”
Haycook-Haught, and other runners, also mention the camaraderie felt with everyone at the marathon.
“Running promotes friendship and bonds that you keep forever,” she said. “(There are) so many of those people out there on race day that you are standing up (for) — freezing — saying hello to before the race, (whom) you’ve known for years or maybe you don’t know them, you just nod at them as you run by them on weekends. DONNA always (causes) huge excitement out there. It’s amazing and it’s exhilarating.”
Haycook-Haught’s daughter has run the marathon with her several times, but as she now lives farther south in Florida, she was unable to join her mother this year, or so Haycook-Haught thought. A surprise appeared toward the end of the race, when she needed the motivation; Haycook-Haught’s training for this marathon wasn’t on point due to a fall and broken jaw she endured in October 2021.
“My daughter surprised me at mile 20 and said, ‘You started the race for your friend, but you’re ending it with your daughter,’” she said. “It brings tears to my eyes. It was wonderful. …She knew that last part of the marathon would be almost walking me in, and she did (with) the rain and the wind, but it meant everything to me.”
Dawson noted that even though she ran the marathon virtually this year, there was that feeling of motivation.
“You don’t have the fans (or) anything like that, but you do have the emails from the DONNA Foundation,” Dawson said. “I follow Instagram and there’s always a big thank you to the virtual runners. That’s special. You always feel like it’s family. ... I have experienced this with so many. I miss being on the course.”
Haycook-Haught and Dawson, among others, know that the DONNA Marathon Weekend needs to continue to make a difference for those living with breast cancer and support more breast cancer research.
“Until we run this race with a huge party saying we’ve cured breast cancer, we have to keep doing it,” Haycook-Haught said. “We need the support from the community and the country to do all of that. Even if we don’t have a cure for breast cancer yet, every day they get better with medication, treatment and financial support for families going through this.”
Dawson added, “We need to continue to raise as much money as we can. It’s a terrible disease and we need to help as much as we can. Those of us that can still do it need to do our part.”
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