In the first week of April 2015, both Cali Gaston and her husband, Blaise, were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Still stunned from the dual diagnosis, they were presented with a canvas bag from the UVA Cancer Center containing a three-ring binder packed with information and a copy of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, widely considered the standard reference for the newly diagnosed.
The literature was helpful, Cali says, and the gesture comforting. Blaise underwent a mastectomy on April 14; one week later, Cali had a double mastectomy. They’ve done everything together for 31 years, says Cali, but this was a whole new level of togetherness. As they recovered from surgery and continued treatment with various chemotherapy drugs, they found support not only in each other but in their doctors, fellow patients and the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler race community.
Cynthia and Mark Lorenzoni, in collaboration with the Charlottesville Track Club, launched the Women’s Four Miler race in 1983 with about 350 runners; it was the first women’s race in town, intended to promote health, fitness and a sense of camaraderie among female runners. The race was linked to the UVA Cancer Center Breast Care Program in 1996 and began its fundraising initiative.
The race has raised more than $3 million to support various Breast Care Program initiatives across Virginia. The money helped fund the purchase of a mobile mammography unit that will travel around the Commonwealth, offering uninsured, underinsured and low-income patients in rural communities access to 3-D and screening mammography, breast ultrasounds and radiologists.
The program also supports a 12-week training program leading up to the race, one that Cali Gaston joined this year to prepare alongside fellow survivors and supporters of the cause. After her diagnosis, she says she craved the structure and motivation of the weekly training sessions. “Plus, I figured that with no breasts and no hair, I would be really aerodynamic,” she says.
Cali ran the Four Miler years ago and this year walked the race while undergoing chemotherapy. She raised $12,000. She lined up at the start of the paved rural course on Garth Road with nearly 3,500 survivors and fellow patients, with women running in memory of mothers, daughters, grandmothers and friends. Blaise—along with thousands of other relatives and friends—cheered her on from the sidelines.
Cali says that there is no other tradition in Charlottesville, athletic or otherwise, quite like it. “The sense of that much support is quite extraordinary,” she says. Closing her eyes to recall the scene, she smiles warmly. “You feel buoyed.”