Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Julie Perdue and her daughter Jessica of Suwanee will be walking in honor of friend Lisa Rhines at the Susan G. Komen 3 day, 60 mile walk in Atlanta Oct. 19-21. This will be Julie's third consecutive year walking for Rhines who died in 2011 from breast cancer.
SUWANEE -- Once Julie Perdue learned that a close friend had stage 4 cancer, she immediately declared to make an effort in an annual event to raise money and awareness to find a cure.
"I'm walking," Perdue recalled saying. "I called my friend Kathy and said, 'I'm walking the 3-Day,' and she said, 'I'm there with you.'"
Soon, daughters of all three women had followed suit and set off to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, a 60-mile walk through the streets of Atlanta. Their friend -- and mother -- Lisa Rhines had originally planned to participate in the team's first walk in 2010, but was too sick to walk, and lost her battle in March 2011.
The team, Gaga for Tatas, a name Rhines created, had three members in 2010, eight last year, and this weekend, Perdue will participate for a third straight year with another one of her daughters, Jessica, as the Suwanee residents continue to contribute to find a cure.
Each participant must pay $2,300, and the event contributes 75 percent of the net proceeds raised by the 3-Day to fund national research and large public health outreach programs. The remaining 25 percent funds local community and outreach programs. The website for the event said, "virtually every major advance in the fight against breast cancer in the last 30 years has been impacted by a Susan G. Komen grant."
The 3-day series, which began in 2003 and is in 14 cities across the country, has collected nearly $700 million.
For Jessica, who had two grandmothers die of cancer, said the decision to participate came after she watched last year's closing ceremonies of the 3-Day when the crowds of survivors wearing pink T-shirts after walking 60 miles was overwhelming.
"That's something that I could kind of connect with, that it happens so often and different kinds of cancer that this is the least we could do is money and walk for three days," Jessica said. "Everyone's been touched by it."
Julie said the initial experience "changed my life" and that it's difficult to train for the event because of the grueling course that is over potholes, manhole covers and hills through downtown. About halfway through, Julie realizes how sore her hips are, and how there's about 30 more miles to go.
"Here I am healthy, and I feel like I'm going to die it's so hard, and I think, 'Gosh, they're going through chemo, and that's nothing compared to 60 miles,'" she said of the survivors. "Doing this physically is nothing like throwing up all the time from doing chemo, losing your hair and the fear that comes with having such a bad disease."
Julie said participating last year alongside Rhines' daughters created a special bond, and they exchange 'I love you' each time they talk.
And it's also allowed Julie and Jessica to spend more time together. Both have time-consuming jobs, but preparation for the 3-Day has caused them to train, often on Sundays, with walks of 12 to 14 miles. As a 3-Day veteran, Julie said preparing mentally is as important as stretching, eating and drinking.
Jessica said watching her mother lead a team like the Gagas for Tatas only adds to what she thinks of her.
"I've always looked up to her," Jessica said. "She's been very much a role model, and being able to experience this with her is going to be pretty amazing. This will create something nothing else would."
While the mother and daughter are passionate about the cause and the chance to participate, Julie said contributions from Rhines' husband and members of the Suwanee community and two local businesses made it happen.
In lieu of flowers at Rhines' funeral, her husband elected to have donations made to the first Gaga for Tatas team, and that collection totaled about $2,000.
The previous two years, Squeaky's Car Wash owner Alan VanCampen contributed a percentage of sales, about $400, from several car washes at the business, which nearly paid for one entry fee.
Owners from the new Tilted Kilt in Suwanee donated $250 and held two fundraisers at the restaurant this summer.
And this year, Gwinnett philanthropist Tom Vooris gave $5,000 to the Perdue mother-daughter team, which covered the entry fee, clothes, shoes and a hotel room during the event.
"It's such a community thing," Julie said. "People come together and say, 'You want to do it, here. Whatever you need, here it is."
Without that community support, Julie said she's not sure if she and Jessica could have both participated this time. But it also helps continue a commitment she made.
"We're going to do this until they find a cure," she said. "So as long as I'm able to do it, and financially I can swing it, that's my goal to do it every year, because I feel like they're close."