Part of Claire Steen's passion in life is to make a difference.
She experienced that as a longtime teacher at Pequot Lakes High School, through her children, through volunteering and through her work with the Susan G. Komen Brainerd Lakes Race for the Cure.
"I've always aspired to make a difference in people's lives," said Steen, a 23-year breast cancer survivor and honorary survivor chair for this year's Race for the Cure, a fundraiser for breast cancer research that will be held Saturday, June 29, at the Pequot Lakes High School athletic field.
This is the first time the race - in its 20th year - will be held in Pequot Lakes. Renovation work at Forestview Middle School in Baxter prompted the move north this year.
Steen taught family and consumer science at PLHS for 32 years before retiring in 2008. The Brainerd resident, who has a home on Upper Hay Lake, was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in the spring of 1996, when she was 49 years old and teaching at PLHS. Her son was a senior in high school and her daughter a sophomore. The late Ed Larsen was the high school principal in Pequot Lakes, and the late Jim Oraskovich was superintendent.
--- --- --- --- ---
Susan G. Komen Brainerd Lakes Race for the Cure
- When: Saturday, June 29.
- Where: Pequot Lakes High School athletic field.
- What: Sponsors' tents with games and giveaways, refreshments, drawings, silent auction, Komen merchandise, photo booth, kids activity tent, team, and individual fundraiser awards, runner awards, Pampered in Pink tent for breast cancer survivors. All participants receive a T-shirt.
Register: Go to www.komenbrainerdlakes.org.
- 7-10:30 a.m.: Expo.
- 8 a.m.: Survivor celebration and parade.
- 8:55 a.m.: Kids ages 2-10 race on the track and the Zero K.
- 9 a.m.: 5K run/walk, 1K walk.
--- --- --- --- ---
"They were both very supportive of me," Steen said.
She taught the stages of grieving, but said: "I didn't feel anger. I didn't go through the stages of grieving. I tried to embrace having breast cancer."
Steen attributes that attitude to her mother, who was told she had a year to live after being diagnosed with colon cancer but instead lived another 22 years.
"She said, 'I'm going to fight this,'" Steen said, noting she took that strength and encouragement from her mom and said of her own diagnosis: "I thought, 'No, I'm going to win this.'"
It wasn't easy, though Steen said her breast cancer journey was perhaps less difficult than for others. She underwent four surgeries in five years: a mastectomy to remove one breast, a mastectomy to remove the other breast, an appendectomy and a hysterectomy. Treatment for breast cancer then was to take Tamoxifen, which Steen took for four years. A side effect was pre-uterine cancer, thus the need for the hysterectomy.
After that first mastectomy, Steen attended a support group. Another woman had surgery around the same time and also attended the support group; however, she survived only one year.
"It was very real to me that I could have had different results," Steen said.
For at least the past 20 years, Steen participated in the Race for the Cure fundraiser in the Twin Cities on Mother's Day, and she and her daughter did a three-day fundraiser walk with Susan G. Komen five times.
She became involved in the local Komen event 12 years ago. Not surprisingly, that involvement was in the education realm. Steen attended regional expos and spoke to support groups and community organizations. Her focus was on breast cancer prevention and diagnosis.
"My emphasis was on looking at early signs of breast cancer and prevention," she said, including teaching about a healthy lifestyle, the importance of getting mammograms and the Sage program, which offers people financial help to get mammograms.
Much progress has been made over the years in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
"I attribute the progress primarily to Susan G. Komen for the Cure," Steen said. "The organization has been at the forefront of research.
"People need to understand 75 percent of the money raised from the race stays right here in Minnesota and in our community," she added, noting the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Foundation in Brainerd received a $20,000 grant in 2018 for non-medical financial assistance to families undergoing breast cancer treatment.
From 1982-2017, Susan G. Komen awarded more than $17.1 million for breast cancer research to the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Grant awards totaled $832,620 last year.
A new emphasis for the Susan G. Komen organization is metastatic cancer research. People with cancer worry, "where will the cancer go next," Steen said, praising that research.
Steen has high hopes for the future and how breast cancer research will affect her five grandchildren.
"I really have a vision - or a hope. My vision is that in their future, breast cancer will be something that's cured," Steen said. "I hope in my grandbabies' future, it will be even better. Because we've made a lot of progress."
But there's more to be made. Steen remains passionate that more research needs to be done, and more people need to be better informed about breast cancer.
Steen, a positive and upbeat person, is happy to say she has been cancer-free for 23 years. She was fortunate, she said, in that she received support at work and from the community, and she was able to get a second opinion.
However, she said: "I think most people with cancer will tell you - the idea of having cancer again will never totally escape you. But I don't dwell on it."