It was a sobering diagnosis, invasive breast cancer with nodal involvement at age 35, and a mother of five. For me, it was especially wrenching, having lost my mom, Karen Denmark, to this disease only three years earlier. In what started as our family’s attempt to summon personal courage and hope, my husband and five small children began folding small origami cranes in the Japanese tradition of reaching 1,000 for a wish of health. So after the first set of surgeries, with only a few dozen cranes folded, when we came home to find our entire house filled with 1000 origami cranes hanging from the ceiling, lovingly made and placed there by children from our daughter’s dance studio, a symbol was created for an enduring foundation of promise.
Only two months later, still recovering from a bilateral mastectomy, lymph removal and reconstruction, I started Wings of Karen, a non-profit 501(c)(3) breast cancer research foundation that pursues a cure by funding breast cancer research in the Pacific NW. I quit my job as an interior designer to not only focus on my cancer treatments and children, but to lead this new organization of volunteers.
The primary source for funds raised has been through a 5k walk/run called the Bra Dash; a fun and lively event held annually near Seattle. Each year it attracts over 2,000 participants supporting not only the cause, but those battling cancer among them. This dash is for our children. I hope someday their memory of breast cancer will be about tossing bras and running for fun with their friends. May they never face this disease as I and so many others have. Their future is in our hands. The 5k Bra Dash is what tangible hope looks like.
A message from Kristi Blair, a breast cancer survivor and founder of Wings of Karen.
On a personal level, Wings of Karen and the connection to my community that it has enabled, provides a much needed support network for me. The fear of this disease returning, or worse, affecting one of my five kids (four of which are girls), can be paralyzing. Knowing that I am actively contributing to the search for a cure, and in the process helping to expand a positive and enthusiastic family of support for other survivors, myself and future generations is a powerful remedy.
I am proud that our work through Wings of Karen has, and continues to, shed light on this disease, while also giving others a sense that something can and will be done.