By Katie Fallon
With a son fighting in Iraq and a recent diagnosis of stage four breast cancer, Randi Passoff has a lot on her plate, but that has not stopped her from adding even more.
Passoff, founder and executive director of the Atlanta 2-Day Walk for Breast Cancer, is now gearing up for the fifth anniversary of the race she established after creating the nonprofit organization, It’s the Journey, Inc. in 2002. The organization is designed to help increase funding and awareness for breast cancer issues and organizations in Atlanta.
With both her home and the It’s the Journey offices in Sandy Springs, Passoff said she knew when she created the walk that she wanted the funds it raised to stay in the Atlanta area, unlike similar national efforts like the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Breast Cancer 3-Day.
“I’m a native Atlantan and a survivor,” Passoff said. “I’d gotten involved with a lot of breast cancer organizations just trying to do different things to help survivors and get the word out.”
This year’s race will be held on Sept. 29 and 30 and will begin and end downtown in Centennial Olympic Park. The route will take participants past major Atlanta landmarks like Piedmont Park, the capital, Georgia Tech and Atlantic Station. Passoff admits, though, that the route will not be easy.
“It’s a hilly, hilly, hilly route,” she said. “People don’t know what to expect.”
Walkers can choose to participate in both days of the race or just on Sunday. They can also choose to walk a total of 10, 20 or 30 miles depending on how many days they walk. Each level of participation also includes a particular registration fee, which covers the cost of food and hotel arrangements, and a minimum fundraising requirement.
Passoff said participants come from all over the state and the numbers have increased every year. Publicity on local radio stations has also brought in a younger demographic of both male and female walkers. Participation, in fact, has doubled since the race was started. Last year, almost 1,000 people registered.
Teams, Passoff said, are just as popular as single or pairs of walkers.
One local organization that will be fielding a team for the first time this year is the Sandy Springs Society. Its president, Bernadine Richard, is a breast cancer survivor and many women in the group have been touched by the disease in some form or fashion.
“Breast cancer touched the lives of many society members in 2006 as two very active members were diagnosed with breast cancer,” said society member Judy Burkholder. “One just completed her chemotherapy and the other is half-way through. Many of us are of the age where we have friends and acquaintances who are diagnosed or who are survivors.”
Burkholder said this year is the first time the society has officially organized a team for the walk. The team, the ranks of which are still growing, was named the Town Trotters in honor of the society’s Town Turtles project.
With the cause of breast cancer being a largely female-centered issue, Alpine jokingly said it’s not just a team of women who are joining the cause. The two-day race, she said, has become a draw for men. “The numbers are growing and growing with the guys.”
Similarly, even though the cause of the race is serious, many walkers use humor when creating their team names. Past names have included “Babes for Boobs” and “Saving First Base.”
Passoff’s life, though, hasn’t always been so consumed by breast cancer awareness. In high school and college, Passoff was a competitive gymnast. After graduating from Ohio’s Kent State University, she continued to coach gymnastics.
It wasn’t until eight years ago that Passoff’s life included “the big C.”
First diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995, she initially had a mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery and six months of chemotherapy. Three years ago, her cancer came back in stage four and she now faces weekly chemotherapy treatments.
The grandmother of three, though, has remained frank, but also cautiously optimistic about her prognosis.
“There’s no cure for this stage,” Passoff said. “When one treatment stops working, another one works. I have two that didn’t work.”
Passoff also considers herself lucky not to have suffered some of the debilitating side effects that can accompany chemotherapy.
“Most of the side effects haven’t taken my energy away or my passion away,” Passoff said. “I’ve really been fortunate. I’ve felt pretty good.”
What had aided Passoff for a majority of her life with cancer has been the close proximity of her immediate family. She and her husband Carl have three grown children and three grandchildren. Until just a year ago, everybody still lived in Sandy Springs.
Passoff said her daughter moved to Chicago to pursue a career opportunity. The decision, she said, led some acquaintances to ask why her daughter wouldn’t want to stay with her while she’s still battling cancer, but Passoff said her daughter staying would have violated her own philosophy of living life to the fullest.
“That wouldn’t have been fair to her,” Passoff said. “You can’t live with the fear that Mom might die.”
With that same positive attitude, Passoff has continued to help raise breast cancer awareness and funding. She said having the disease has only further inspired her.
“You want to not let your disease control you,” she said. “To me, every day I’m alive is wonderful.”
When all the planning, organizing and walking is over, the ultimate result is evident in the amount of money the 2-Day has raised in the last few years. Each year, the final tally is announced at a closing ceremony and since the first race, the 2-Day has been able to fund 65 grants to local breast cancer organizations.