The Circle Up Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team in 2008. Photo Credit: Karen Mosteller.

Karen Mosteller does not have breast cancer. In fact, she never has. But, it’s a different story for many of her close friends.

“We were younger then,” Mosteller says, recounting memories of two friends diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks apart over a decade ago. “We were all taken aback. They were both healthy and exercised and did all the right things. They ate well, they took walks — all the things you were supposed to be doing.”

Mosteller and others gathered around their two dear friends to provide comfort, support and love.

“We felt like if we ‘circled up,’ we somehow could have some power in this situation; I think that’s probably what was in our hearts,” she says. “If we circle up then we can together either defeat it or hang on. I think it was a way for us to certainly be able to do something to have some kind of power in what seemed like a powerless situation.”

Much has changed in the years since her friends’ breast cancer diagnoses. In 2009, one lost her battle with the disease. “Circle Up,” the informal support group Mosteller and others formed, has blossomed into a fundraising powerhouse for Charlotte’s local Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure. On Oct. 1, the group participated in the event for the 13th time.

“There’s at least 10 or 12 survivors who are a part of Circle Up,” Mosteller says.

“I’ve gotten to recognize and know people and care about people outside of my personal circle and to feel like I’m a part of something larger.”

Ann Hooper is among Mosteller’s new circle of friends and acquaintances. In 2003, Hooper was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like Mosteller, she’s worked with Circle Up to raise awareness and funds for a cure.

The group has raised more than $400,000 since its inception.

“I think that’s a pretty incredible thing,” Hooper says.

She considers herself a survivor, as do many other women who have battled breast cancer. Yet, the Komen race and Circle Up’s mission aren’t purely celebratory; there’s a mission and purpose to it all, she says.

“The race celebrates survivorhood and that we are going to be active to find a cure,” Hooper says, “but I don’t see it as a big personal celebration; I’m just trying to be involved. We are being proactive and that will, I hope, be of some benefit to younger women.”

Jill Burgess is also a survivor. She received her diagnosis in 2004. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed.

“I’m doing okay so far,” she says.

Burgess had a leg-up when she first heard the news. A radiation therapist, she’d helped treat plenty of cancer patients before.

“I think that helped in a lot of ways,” she says. “I knew what to expect, though at the same time, I was sort of frightful because I knew what everyone went through.”

Burgess, too, has turned to a large circle of friends and loved one. Healing Dragons is a competitive dragon boat racing team. Established in 2009, it has participated in competitions across the South. For Burgess, it’s been a welcome support system full of friends.

“We come together as a team to practice, to go to races; we support each other,” she says. “We’re like a big family.”

Coming together among others with similar struggles has provided Burgess new insights into her life.

“Everyone can relate to what you’re going through or what you have gone through,” she says. “You can talk about it if you want and they all understand what you’ve been through.”

The team’s competitive, athletic nature also has positive benefits.

“By exercising, you start feeling better about yourself and you start feeling better physically and mentally,” she says. “The exercise is a tremendous help.”

Burgess has simple advice for women just now facing the prospects of a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Take time to process the diagnosis,” Burgess says. “Then find a support system, whether it be family or friends or a team like Healing Dragons. Find a place where people understand.”

Hooper says breast cancer, traditionally seen as a women’s disease, really affects all people.

“Many of our guy friends have stepped up,” she says. “They’ve got mothers and sisters.”

Mosteller says she’s learned a lot about love and courage in the years she’s been active with Circle Up. Her recently-passed friend, she says, was an “unbelievable woman with courage and strength.”

“When you have people like that in your life, it teaches you that you can be strong and persevere in the face of anything,” Mosteller says. “If she could be as strong and caring and go on the way she did, certainly I can handle any situation that comes my way, too.” : :


Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.