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AUTO BMW Ultimate Drive raised $1 per mile for cancer foundatio

By Jeff Kiger

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

As we cruised through a stop light in a new 3351 BMW, my driver chuckled.

"It is kind of fun going through a red light," she said.

This was not my usual driver. I gave the Wheel Man the week off. This was not a typical test drive.

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We were in a procession of 19 shiny titanium and pink new BMWs following a police escort. Each car was being driven by a breast cancer survivor.

The survivor drive kicked off the daylong BMW Ultimate Drive event to raise money – $1 per mile – for the Susan G. Komen Foundation

I asked my driver if she knew a lot about cars.

"I paid $35 for my first car – a Corvair. So I had to have some skill at adjusting the carburetor," Sue Whitcomb of Chatfield told me as we pulled out of the Park Place Motors lot. "I had more skill at calling Triple A."

Driving down Second Street Southwest, she told me about her experience with breast cancer. In 1995 when she lived in Michigan, a tumor was found. She underwent a lumpectomy and light chemotherapy, completing her treatment at Mayo Clinic after her family moved to Chatfield.

Then in 2005, a much larger tumor – unrelated to the first one – appeared. It was 5 1/2 inches in size when it was found.

"I was terrified. I figured I was dead meat," Whitcomb said as the BMW caravan made a quick unexpected stop forcing her to try to avoid rear-ending the car in front of us. "Ooo-kay … the brakes work well."

She soon found out her second run-in with breast cancer was "a whole different situation" than the first time.

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Whitcomb had a bilateral mastectomy followed by intense rounds of chemotherapy. The treatment, during which she says she had invaluable support from her husband and two children, took about a year. Though she is now cancer-free, the effects of the ordeal, like numb toes, still stay with her.

"I went from waist length hair to bald in four months. You know, people are nicer to you when you are bald," she said as we pulled onto West Circle Drive. "I wish they’d let us go out on highway and have some fun."

While people without cancer want to be supportive, often they are not that helpful.

"You’re scared enough at first. It is just a scary disease. Everyone knows someone who died slowly and painfully," she says. "I’d be nice if people would tell success stories instead of horror stories."

Whitcomb soon joined an area breast cancer support group that meets at Hope Lodge the first Wednesday of every month. She also participated in the Dragon Boat breast cancer rowing crew. She found people who understood what she was going through. They could laugh and cry together.

She is now a co-leader of the support group.

As we took some curves as fast as the caravan would allow, Whitcomb talked about how responsive the car was and how cancer is more than a disease. "It is a life-changing event."

So with a new outlook on life, what would she do with a new BMW if she had a few days to drive it?

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"Take a road trip … no question. I’d probably visit relatives in the Black Hills area. I love driving and stopping when I feel it," Whitcomb said. "I’d probably have to hit a few scrapbook stores along the way."

Her smile at that thought was mirrored by people standing at an intersection watching the pink emblazoned cars roll by.

After parking back at the lot, she said, "This is a fun little car. What an easy way to raise money – drive a car."

The next time I meet someone dealing with breast cancer, I now have a success story – Sue Whitcomb’s – to tell them.

Look for Fantasy Test Drive in Automotion as internal combustion illiterate Jeff Kiger and his motorhead driver – the Wheel Man – hit the road to find out how the other half drives.

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