Soldier Continues Legacy of Raising Money for Breast Cancer

By Sgt. Michael J. Taylor, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, May 11, 2006 - Losing a loved one to cancer is a hardship for anyone who goes through it, but one soldier deployed to Afghanistan learned how to turn his pain into motivation.

The Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure's motto is: "It began with a promise & It ends with a cure." This promise became Army 1st Lt. Michael G. Clark's promise after breast cancer killed grandmother seven years ago at the age of 82.

Clark, the Task Force Muleskinner air movement officer and a Pittsburgh native, decided to do something to honor his grandmother.

The KPRC is a 5-kilometer run that takes place every year on Mother's Day in which volunteers run to raise money for the cure of breast cancer.

"When my grandmother passed away I was very devastated," Clark said. "It was hard on me. Later I decided I wanted to do something to help so that others wouldn't have to go through what I went through, losing someone to breast cancer. That's when I started running for the cure."

For the past four years, Clark has donated his time and effort on Mother's Day to raise money for the race.

"This is a personal race for me," Clark said. "It's not about winning or losing; it's really about what I can do to help, and if this is all I can do, then I will do it."

Clark has not always run the race by himself. Some of his family members have also become involved. His wife, Kelly, and her family joined him until now.

Recently activated and deployed to Afghanistan, Clark quickly realized he would not be able to participate in this year's race.

"I began looking forward to the race every year, and didn't want to miss out on it this year," Clark said. "That's when I came up with the idea, why not run it here."

He said he is dedicated to raising money for the cure of breast cancer and didn't want this deployment to get in the way. "I owe it to my grandmother," he added.

Since he still wanted to run the race, Clark then contacted the race officials, told them his situation and they allowed him to sign up. He would not miss it after all.

In the past four years, Clark has not missed a race and has raised more than $1,000. This year, with May 14 being the last day for donations, he has almost surpassed that amount.

"Every year I usually set a goal of raising about $200," Clark said. "But for some reason this year, once people found out I was running the race here in Afghanistan; they donated a little more, and now with three weeks left I have already exceeded $700 in donations for the Pittsburgh cure."

For every $100 the runners raise, one mammogram can be provided to someone who needs it. The race usually raises between $1.6 to $2 million a year. The race is almost like a miniature Boston Marathon, with thousands and thousands of people showing up to race, Clark said.

The people who participate in the race are taking a major step toward helping find the cure of cancer, Clark said.

"We could sit here and watch the news and the pharmaceutical companies and hope that some thing happens, but what we're doing is going out and trying to lend a hand to help make it happen," he said. "No one should have to lose a loved one to a disease like this."

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today and is the most common cancer among women, according to the World Health Organization. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1.2 million people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year worldwide. It is also estimated that 40,410 women and 460 men will die from breast cancer in the United States this year.

"I know for a fact that running this race here in Afghanistan will help the foundation, but I also hope it helps raise global awareness of the problem," Clark said. "I want people to see that no matter where you are, you can still contribute."

Although Clark will not be able to run the race with his family members back home, he will be joined by some of his military family members, including his commander and other members of his unit. He also will continue collecting donations up until May 14.

"Every year breast cancer survivors show up to watch the race," Clark said. "When they see everything that we are doing for them by running this race and raising so much money, you can see the happiness all over their faces and the tears of joy in their eyes. That is the part that I am going to miss most of all, but fortunately I will have my grandmother watching over me every step of the way."

(Army Sgt. Michael J. Taylor is assigned to the Joint Logistics Command.)

Related Site:

Combined Forces Command Afghanistan []

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