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Joyriding for a cause
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IN FEBRUARY, while browsing the winter sale at Gaucho’s Bull Street shop, I found myself in a spontaneous conversation with three women: the sales assistant, a longtime downtown resident, and a second-home Savannahian, grateful to be back in our mild climate after a week in the cold at her Pennsylvania abode.

Super Museum Sunday, the sugar refinery explosion, whether or not a pair of jeans fit—such was the gist of our conversation, when the second home woman—I’ll call her Penny in honor of her home state—asked us about local fundraising activities for breast cancer awareness.

As we flipped through our mental Rolodex files to no avail, Penny turned to face us from the sweater display she was perusing, planted her feet and squared up her shoulders.

“These aren’t mine,” she said, pointing with both index fingers to her breasts.

This slender, toned woman, dressed for a workout, with perfect hair and makeup, told us she’d had a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemo after breast cancer. When was she ill? I don’t remember, but her thick shoulder-length hair suggested it’s been a while.

In the weeks after that shopping outing I’ve forgotten Penny’s real name, but I remember her energy, her physical fitness, her zeal for increasing breast cancer awareness, and her comment that since coming to Savannah she hasn’t encountered a local presence for her favorite cause, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

As it turns out, the Coastal Georgia affiliate of Komen for the Cure has only been around for 18 months, according to Nancy Johnson, the affiliate’s board president. The board has been busy getting organized and has sponsored Komen on the Go, an educational program. To date they’ve taken that program out to coastal Georgia college students, to Brunswick, and to schools and hospitals in Savannah and nearby.

In the last quarter, the coastal affiliate received a $40,000 grant from Kroger, and has just been approved by the national Komen for the Cure organization to host a Race for the Cure sometime next year.

They’ve also given away almost $70,000 this year to support breast cancer awareness in coastal Georgia. The grants went to agencies offering screening and education for African American women, Hispanic women, the working poor, and women who are high risk but under age 40, and are therefore ineligible for federally funded screening programs for over-40 women.

Johnson, the administrator for the Lewis Cancer and Research Pavilion, estimates that 430 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed at Savannah’s two major health systems each year. The key to survival is early detection.

She quotes Georgia statistics from 2000 to 2004 showing that only 51% of white patients and 41% of black patients were diagnosed in the earliest stages of the illness, when the likelihood of survival is highest.

When she worked in Miami, Florida in 2005, “we were up to 69% and 70% diagnosis in the localized disease, early stage, when you have a better chance of curing. We had a Komen affiliate there that I served on and I know it makes a difference. In South Florida we were able to increase the survival rates.”

On March 24, raising money for the local chapter of Komen for the Cure will be just a joyride away. A designated fleet of new, silver sportscars with pink detailing will roll into Critz BMW for the Ultimate Drive, a one-day test drive fundraiser. For every mile driven, by anyone over 21 with a driver’s license, BMW USA will donate one dollar to the local Komen affiliate.

Although Critz has been a stop on the BMW Komen fundraising route at least since 1999, last year was the first time that the funds raised in Savannah stayed in town, according to Lisa Kessel of Critz BMW. Last year, 209 test drives logged 3077 miles. Since transporting the cars to the next city is included in the count, the 2007 mileage (and dollar) total for the Savannah event was 5661.

My inner tree hugger winces a bit at using fossil fuels to drive a 14-mile circular route, but with BMW’s vehicles getting 24 to 29 miles per gallon, these cars will raise that equivalent in dollars for every $3.25 or so spent on gas. That’s a much better return per dollar than for many fundraising efforts, and for many less worthy car trips.

I suspect that my shopping buddy Penny will be pleased to see that her second-home town is expanding its support of her favorite cause.

Savannah’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure BMW benefit is Monday, March 24 at Critz BMW, 7000 Abercorn Street. Reserve a drive time on, or drop in at Critz BMW on the day of the event.

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