SALT LAKE CITY — Heather Cooke looked at the deep pink shirt being offered to her in 2011 and realized that if she slipped it on, there was no more hiding the fact that she was a cancer survivor.
"I hadn't talked to anyone about my cancer except my family," said Heather Cooke, who participated again in Saturday's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K with her team, Peter Cooke for Governor, to celebrate being a year and a half cancer free.
"That was the first moment for me, and I had to ask myself, 'Am I ready to go public with this? Or do I just wear the shirt I have on?' It was kind of an epiphany moment. I decided to put on that magenta, deep pink shirt."
What followed was the kind of experience she couldn't have anticipated.
"It was so humbling," she said. "All I could think of was what an unexpected blessing this condition has been for me, the awareness it's given me, the appreciation it's given me and the family support. I feel very fortunate to be living in a time and a place where we as women have better care of our bodies than we've ever had."
Early detection was one of the focuses of this year's event, thanks in part to KUTV-Ch. 2 news anchor Mary Nickles sharing her story of detecting her breast cancer through a mammogram.
Ironically, Utah, which is one of the country's healthiest places, is the second lowest per capita in number of women utilizing mammograms. Idaho is the lowest.
Debbie Mintowt, executive director of Utah's Susan G. Komen affiliate, said she doesn't know why Utah's rates are so low.
"We think it's partly because women just don't realize that if it doesn't run in their families, they're still at risk for breast cancer," she said. "It will affect one in eight women."
Mintowt said about 12,000 people participated in the 5K walk/run, of which nearly 900 were survivors.
"It was just incredible," she said. "Our numbers were down, but we do encourage people to continue to donate through May 31."
Donations can be made to specific teams or a general fund, and money raised is used locally. A doctor at Saturday's race told Mintowt he is a researcher at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and is currently researching the disease thanks to a Komen grant, as are two of his associates.
The funds also go to pay for care and assistance to women suffering from the disease in rural areas. For example, Perkie Travels in Price has a Komen grant that allows it to help women travel to treatments in Provo.
"The more any of us can get the word out, the more lives that will be saved," she said.
Cooke had just turned 50 when her mother began prodding her to have a mammogram.
"It was the fall of 2010, and I was just due for a regular, routine mammogram," she said. "My mom was making sure I was doing all of my preventative care. She's a remarkably healthy person and believes in staying healthy."
So Cooke had the mammogram and doctors told her they saw "something very small."
"They said it was probably calcium deposits," she said. "I am a perfect story of a mammogram saving someone's life. I would never have known it was there."
Doctors performed a needle biopsy, which confirmed that it was in fact cancer, and then a lumpectomy, to remove the cancerous tissue. Laboratory tests showed that the margins were not clean, forcing Cooke to make another gut-wrenching decision.
"I had to face going in for another lumpectomy or lop it off, as I say to my family," Cooke recalls laughing. "So I opted for the mastectomy on my right breast. That was March 2011."
- Miss Utah USA's bungled interview creates...
- Doug Robinson: Utah man's new running shoe...
- Miss Utah USA gets second chance at question...
- Ogden man shot as he knelt to pray is...
- Video: Miss Utah USA flubs answer at Miss USA...
- BYU poll: Majority favor impeachment,...
- NPR writer 'slightly' defends Miss Utah USA's...
- Man charged with attempted murder in Ogden...
- Miss Utah USA's bungled interview... 37
- Video: Miss Utah USA flubs answer at... 26
- BYU poll: Majority favor impeachment,... 25
- 2 others back up extortion claims... 21
- Teen's family apologizes to family of... 20
- Attorneys for AG John Swallow say... 20
- Gunman caught after shooting... 20
- Poll: Majority of Utahns want... 18