On the Run

As she prepares for the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, local Komen leader Michele Ostrander wants you to move it, too, for breast-cancer awareness, research, and treatment.

Michele Ostrande

Michele Ostrander loves Houston museums, the tacquerias that dot her northside subdivision, and the great outdoors. She enjoys camping in the Hill Country, bike riding, and bird watching, though she adds her partner of nine years, Sofia Aguilar, “isn’t really into birding.”

But just now, Ostrander, executive director of the Houston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, doesn’t have a lot of time for those activities. She, along with her staff of four and about 1,200 dedicated volunteers, is busy right now gearing up for the annual Race for the Cure, which will be held downtown on October 6. As one of the largest fundraising walk/runs in Houston, the event includes a lot of moving parts, including some 27,000 participants.

“There are a lot of logistics involved in a race this size,” says Ostrander, whose days have been filled with phone calls, corralling corporate teams, and planning other fundraising events, including the Pink Tie Gala set for February 16. “It’s multiple events,” she says, although the race is the biggest fundraiser for the Komen affiliate. This year Ostrander hopes the race will raise $3 million for breast-cancer education, research, and treatment.

Seventy-five percent of all monies raised remain here, an important fact since 27 percent of Harris County residents are uninsured. “And yet we have the Texas Medical Center right here, which offers the latest and greatest care for cancer,” Ostrander says. “What we’re trying to do is bridge that gap. We fund small nonprofits that aid the uninsured and underinsured. Every woman diagnosed with breast cancer should have access to resources. They shouldn’t have to deal with the disease alone.” Komen grant recipients this year include a Legacy Community Health Services breast-cancer education program.

Ostrander has been involved in helping others from a young age. “I’ve always been an advocate of women’s issues,” she says. “My mother always taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, but I realized early that men had more access and more power than women. It’s better now, but we still have a way to go.” Born in a small town in Pennsylvania, Ostrander received a master’s degree in psychology from St. Bonaventure University in New York and has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 13 years. She moved to Houston in 1992, left for a four-year stint at the Tahoe Women’s Services in northern California, and joined the Houston Komen Affiliate as executive director in June 2005.

“The national organization is 25 this year,” she says. “Our goal is to cure breast cancer, and I’m optimistic. I think we will. It won’t be just one cure. There are different types of breast cancer, so there will be several cures. It will take time, but it will happen. The biggest breakthrough is in more targeted therapies, and in the fact that you can walk into a store and see pink ribbons everywhere. Twenty-five years ago we didn’t even talk about breast cancer. Komen has been key to that growth. Today, thanks to education, research, and advanced treatments and screenings, breast cancer that hasn’t spread outside the breast has a 98 percent  survival rate for five years.”

In its 16 years of operation, the Komen Houston Affiliate has funded more than $12.4 million in local grants and sent more than $4.1 million to the national Komen Foundation research grant program. That’s not a bad fundraising record, but Ostrander still wants to do more, particularly in the lesbian community.

“I think that generally there is much more awareness in the community now,” she says, “but lesbians often have more risk factors for breast cancer, so it’s very important that they be educated about early detection.”

Often lesbians don’t have children or put off childbirth until their later years, which can be a factor in developing breast cancer. Lesbians can also face problems in accessing health care, particularly if a partner’s company doesn’t offer benefits to same-sex partners. And then there’s the fact that even if they have health insurance, lesbians often don’t see their doctors for checkups as often as their heterosexual sisters who are on birth control.

Bottom line: Get educated and get involved, Ostrander says. She adds that Komen always needs more volunteers. With race day just around the corner, this is a prime moment to help out. You can volunteer or you can run or walk on October 6. Or you can send a hefty donation for the Sleep In For The Cure program and receive you a cute little pillowcase so you can stay home and sleep (opening ceremonies on race day start at 7:45 a.m.) instead of joining the throngs of walkers and runners. Check out www.komen-houston.org for race details and more information. You can also find news on state Proposition 15 that would invest $3 billion over the next 10 years in cancer research and prevention programs in the state and create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The initiative will be on the ballot in November.

“It will make Texas a leader in cancer research,” Ostrander says. “We’re encouraging people to learn about it and then get out and vote.”

Even if you just come to watch and cheer on the runners, you’re guaranteed a good time. Bayou City Performing Arts—composed of the Bayou City Women’s Chorus and Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston—will lend its voice in the Komen fight song, “I Will Survive,” at the culminating ceremonies for the race. (The two choruses will also perform a concert on October 23 to benefit the affiliate; see sidebar for details.) So get your Nikes on and move it for the cure.

“I won’t be running come race day,” Ostrander says. “But I’ll be running around!”

Marene Gustin profiled local musicians for our August issue.

All God’s Children Got Breasts
Well, all god’s children that are mammals got breasts, that is…. In the spirit of mammary inclusion, members of both the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston and Bayou City Women’s Chorus are joining together this month for a very special project.

Observing Breast Cancer Awareness month and Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s 25th anniversary, the newly formed Bayou City Chorale is presenting Sing for the Cure.

The concert, a retelling of the stories of eight women and their journeys through breast cancer featuring chorus, orchestra, and narration, hits Jones Hall’s stage Tuesday, October 23, 7:30 p.m. The Houston Komen group gets 20 percent of the ticket proceeds.

Details: www.BayouCityPerformingArts.org • 713/521-7464

Feel the love
After the October 6 Race for the Cure, the feel-good fun for breast health continues well into the month of October with the Passionately Pink for the Cure Party.

WHO: You and your breast health-promoting friends
WHAT: Passionately Pink for the Cure Party
WHEN: October 21, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Club 1415, 1415 California St.
WITH: KRBE DJ Special K, with photography by Epizentum Foto
HOW MUCH: $5, benefiting Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
MORE: www.myspace.com/thepinkpals

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Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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