Charlotteâs CircleUp, Healing Dragons work to provide fellowship, remembrance, health, awareness
The Circle Up Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team in 2008. Photo Credit: Karen Mosteller.
Karen Mosteller does not have breast cancer. In fact, she never has. But, itâs a different story for many of her close friends.
âWe were younger then,â Mosteller says, recounting memories of two friends diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks apart over a decade ago. âWe were all taken aback. They were both healthy and exercised and did all the right things. They ate well, they took walks â all the things you were supposed to be doing.â
Mosteller and others gathered around their two dear friends to provide comfort, support and love.
âWe felt like if we âcircled up,â we somehow could have some power in this situation; I think thatâs probably what was in our hearts,â she says. âIf we circle up then we can together either defeat it or hang on. I think it was a way for us to certainly be able to do something to have some kind of power in what seemed like a powerless situation.â
Much has changed in the years since her friendsâ breast cancer diagnoses. In 2009, one lost her battle with the disease. âCircle Up,â the informal support group Mosteller and others formed, has blossomed into a fundraising powerhouse for Charlotteâs local Susan G. Komen Foundationâs Race for the Cure. On Oct. 1, the group participated in the event for the 13th time.
âThereâs at least 10 or 12 survivors who are a part of Circle Up,â Mosteller says.
âIâve gotten to recognize and know people and care about people outside of my personal circle and to feel like Iâm a part of something larger.â
Ann Hooper is among Mostellerâs new circle of friends and acquaintances. In 2003, Hooper was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like Mosteller, sheâs worked with Circle Up to raise awareness and funds for a cure.
The group has raised more than $400,000 since its inception.
âI think thatâs a pretty incredible thing,â Hooper says.
She considers herself a survivor, as do many other women who have battled breast cancer. Yet, the Komen race and Circle Upâs mission arenât purely celebratory; thereâs a mission and purpose to it all, she says.
âThe race celebrates survivorhood and that we are going to be active to find a cure,â Hooper says, âbut I donât see it as a big personal celebration; Iâm just trying to be involved. We are being proactive and that will, I hope, be of some benefit to younger women.â
Jill Burgess is also a survivor. She received her diagnosis in 2004. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed.
âIâm doing okay so far,â she says.
Burgess had a leg-up when she first heard the news. A radiation therapist, sheâd helped treat plenty of cancer patients before.
âI think that helped in a lot of ways,â she says. âI knew what to expect, though at the same time, I was sort of frightful because I knew what everyone went through.â
Burgess, too, has turned to a large circle of friends and loved one. Healing Dragons is a competitive dragon boat racing team. Established in 2009, it has participated in competitions across the South. For Burgess, itâs been a welcome support system full of friends.
âWe come together as a team to practice, to go to races; we support each other,â she says. âWeâre like a big family.â
Coming together among others with similar struggles has provided Burgess new insights into her life.
âEveryone can relate to what youâre going through or what you have gone through,â she says. âYou can talk about it if you want and they all understand what youâve been through.â
The teamâs competitive, athletic nature also has positive benefits.
âBy exercising, you start feeling better about yourself and you start feeling better physically and mentally,â she says. âThe exercise is a tremendous help.â
Burgess has simple advice for women just now facing the prospects of a breast cancer diagnosis.
âTake time to process the diagnosis,â Burgess says. âThen find a support system, whether it be family or friends or a team like Healing Dragons. Find a place where people understand.â
Hooper says breast cancer, traditionally seen as a womenâs disease, really affects all people.
âMany of our guy friends have stepped up,â she says. âTheyâve got mothers and sisters.â
Mosteller says sheâs learned a lot about love and courage in the years sheâs been active with Circle Up. Her recently-passed friend, she says, was an âunbelievable woman with courage and strength.â
âWhen you have people like that in your life, it teaches you that you can be strong and persevere in the face of anything,â Mosteller says. âIf she could be as strong and caring and go on the way she did, certainly I can handle any situation that comes my way, too.â : :