OTTUMWA — Lola Hamm doesn’t live in Ottumwa. But she wasn’t going to miss Saturday’s Race for the Cure. Several relatives have survived breast cancer.

Besides, her son-in-law is Mark Altfillisch, one of the key organizers of the race.

“It’s fabulous,” she said, with perhaps a hint of bias.

It was hard to argue with the assessment, though. Hundreds of people gathered at the Jimmy Jones Shelter in Ottumwa Park, getting out of the rain and ready to run. A few dozen members of the Iowa Army National Guard used the event as training, running the route with packs.

The heart of the race, though, are the survivors. Breast cancer has become a survivable diagnosis in many cases, and new treatments have increased their odds. Dorothy Gilbert knows that firsthand.

Gilbert’s first diagnosis came in 2005. She beat cancer, only for it to return in 2010. She beat it again. “I’m a survivor,” she said.

It wasn’t a boast. Breast cancer is a terrifying diagnosis, and treatment means months of physical pain. You don’t get through it alone, said Gilbert. Having friends, family and a good medical staff all help support patients through the process.

“The feeling of confidence that my team was taking care of me, that made a huge difference,” Gilbert said.

On Saturday, she helped work the tables crowded with items for the silent auction after her daughter suggested she get involved. “She called and said, ‘Mom, would you be interested in being at the table?’” Gilbert said. She couldn’t say no.

As scary as the disease still is, the race targets it with humor and enthusiasm. Danielle Joiner and Donna Krutsinger were part of a team that ran while wearing pink tutus.

“We had to hav something fun to do,” Joiner said.

“It’s fun. It’s exciting,” Krutsinger agreed.

And it’s support. The participants become part of the team that is working to ensure breast cancer eventually comes to an end.

That’s important. Just ask Dorothy Gilbert, or any of the other survivors at the race, taking their shot at a disease that targeted them.


Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.