News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 8, 2013

Cancer on the Run

Impromptu wedding, team runs part of successful annual event

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Shawn and Tawnya Sheffield met 28 years ago. After many years of not seeing each other, they reconnected through Facebook three years ago and have been together ever since.

Early Saturday morning, the couple tied the knot with a 20 minute “emotional” ceremony witnessed by family and friends.

And some 600 other guests.

The wedding was a last minute addition to the many events at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure held at Indiana State University’s Memorial Stadium on Terre Haute’s east side.

The bride and groom exchanged vows on the stage on the southwest side of the stadium.

The best part is simply “getting married,” the excited bride and groom said in chorus.

But their reasons for having their important day at the Komen Race go much deeper.

The bride, Tawnya, who wore a bright pink shirt with the words, “Survivor,” is scheduled to undergo a double mastectomy Tuesday, so the groom thought the event was the perfect place and Saturday was the perfect time for a wedding.

“I would rather go ahead and do this before she has the surgery,” Shawn said.

“To let her know that I’m going to be there forever,” he pledged as he stood beside his new wife after the ceremony inside the family’s tent in Team Village as guests enjoyed the wedding cake.

‘A lot of happy people’

The wedding may have been witnessed by around 600 people but Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure was attended by more than 1,900 registered participants and their guests, made possible by around 250 volunteers, organizers said.

“It just reaches a whole lot of people [from] a broad spectrum in the community” who are “passionate to find a cure,” said Gwen Hicks, Susan G. Komen for the Cure Wabash Valley Affiliate development director.

One of the passionate volunteers received special recognition during the opening ceremonies.

Volunteer Julie Agee was given the Rachel Drake Volunteer of the Year Award. The award is named after Rachel Drake, an “amazing volunteer at the Wabash Valley Affiliate,” who lost her battle to breast cancer, according to the group’s website.

Drake’s son, Garrett, presented the award and told Agee, “Thank you for all your support. Congratulations.”

“I’m totally surprised and honored because Rachel was a wonderful person,” Agee said after receiving the award.

But the day was just getting started.

“The energy, the passion, our phenomenal sponsors helped make so much happen today,” Hicks said.

And a lot happened.

In addition to the main events — the 1-mile celebration walk/run around the stadium (on a path in the shape of the state of Indiana) and the 5K Race for the Cure — there was a pep rally, a survivor parade, warm ups, silent auction and expo.

The Race for the Cure is one of the Wabash Valley Affiliate’s biggest fundrasing events.

“All the funds raised today will propel us on for the rest of the year [and] help us make a difference,” Hicks said.

A majority of the money — 75 percent — will fund local grants supporting screening, treatment and education. The rest goes to the national Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization, which supports research to find a cure for breast cancer.

The event is also made possible by a supportive community.

“The community support and sponsors: That’s what it’s all about,” Hicks said.

And organizers are happy with the turnout.

  “I think it’s going really well,” said Brent Fox, race manager with the Komen headquarters in Dallas.

Fox, who came to the race to “support one of our local events,” said the event is filled with “a lot of happy people [who are] excited to be here.”

The event, he said, attracts people from all parts of the city and from different backgrounds.

“Every team has a story,” Fox said.

Troupe Amanda

One team that has a special story to tell is Troupe Amanda.

“We’re a team and a family,” said Dawn Kirby, a member of the team.

Members of the team (or family) wore matching black T-shirts with the words “Got Pink” on the front and “Troupe Amanda” on the back.

About 25 family members from Michigan, Missouri and Illinois turned up to honor their relative, Amanda Fessant, who lost her battle against breast cancer 2 years ago. She was 34.

Kirby said that when her sister Amanda’s cancer was detected, it was already in the late stages.

She said the family’s goal is to raise awareness that cancer can strike at any age and that even young people should seek medical help if they notice something “suspicious.”

“Be proactive. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Kirby, a resident of Paris, Ill.

Amanda’s mother, Marion Pate, and sister, Debbie Ford, were also there.

Pate said she aims to not only honor her daughter and a sister-in-law, who also died of breast cancer, but also to educate and “save others’ lives.”

And in an effort to raise awareness, Amanda’s son, DJ, volunteered to be the team’s mascot.

“I’m really excited and happy to help others,” the 13-year-old said.

He thinks his mother is smiling from above.

“She’d be laughing and putting it on Facebook,” said DJ, who had a pink mustache on as part of his costume.

Four generations of the family were represented at the race.

Kirby’s grandchildren, 4-year-old Jocelyn Jewel and 2-year-old Keegan Jewel wore matching shirts with the words, “My aunt was a fighter.”

And the fight continues.

“[Breast cancer] affects lives and ... families. It’s not just a patient disease; it’s a family disease,” Kirby said.

“We fight it as a family,” she added.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or