Ok, this is important to me. Too many friends and family have had to walk the road of breast cancer. My sister-in-law, Ellen. My friends Wanda, Michelle, Rana, Sharon, this list could go on and on. My best friend's sister, Dorothy and my friend Heide (unfortunately, not survivors). Some may call Breast Cancer Awareness Month "pinkwashing," a way to make money, and not really to help. Not me....
And I think back, to a time seven years ago....seven years. In some ways it seems like yesterday, in others a lifetime. Marilyn's sister Dorothy was still sick. Very sick. I saw a commercial about the Breast Cancer 3-day, and made a commitment that very day.
I raised over $2,000 and walked 60 miles in three days. Was it easy? Uh, no. Was it fun? Absolutely. Heart-warming? You betcha. Will I ever do it again? Probably not, as my knee ended up being damaged far more than I thought.
In honor of what so many people do to fight this enemy, I'm reposting my diary from the Breast Cancer 3-day I was a part of in 2003.
Day 0 - November 6, 2003
I traveled to Sacramento via Amtrak bus...met some interesting people and got to see the newly remodeled Redding Amtrak depot - it's a beauty! My friend Marilyn picked me up at the Sacramento depot - remodel going on there, too - what I saw was lovely. We shopped for some new jammies, grabbed a quick lunch & hit the road!
Arrived at the Expo Center in San Mateo for registration - very well organized! We saw a safety and orientation video (okay, I was crying already - is the whole weekend going to be this moving? I have a feeling it will be!). We then moved on to towel rental (no one wants to use a wet towel all weekend, do they?), and got in line for final check on our donations...we all had to commit to a minimum of $2000 and many of us had checks that still had to be turned in to make that minimum...lots of great volunteers helped this move quickly - had my first meeting with "Pretty Woman Guy." Okay, pink hair, pink gloves, lots of smiles - who is this guy? His name is Phil...that's about all I know now....he made sure that those who didn't meet the minimum got matched up with those who went over, so that no one was turned away from walking. Anyway, after confirming our donations, we got our official event badges!!! We got our tent assignment - G048 - and we were on our way! There were ladies at the door to hand us pink carnations and off we were to the Radisson Villa Hotel in San Mateo.
Very nice hotel room - built in the 50s but recently remodeled - we had a picture of Albert Einstein to inspire us! We ventured to the restaurant for the walker's special pasta buffet - and were seated with a couple from Redding! Small world...
We stuffed ourselves, showered and off to sleep early....with visions of blisters in our heads.
Day 1 - Friday, November 6, 2003
It's my wedding anniversary! Six years ago today, John and I pledged our love to one another before God and our friends and family. Today, I walk to save families...
Started early. The bus picked us up at the hotel at 5:00 a.m. On the way to Bay Meadows racetrack, we met a woman named Jackie. She has flown from Ohio, by herself, to join the walk in honor of her friend, Mary, who recently underwent a mastectomy. We invited her to join our merry band! After dropping our gear at the big "G" truck, we walked to Opening Ceremonies, which started just after 6:30 a.m. Okay, they were beautiful...I was crying already. Just talking to those around us, we met women from all over. There was a group of survivors standing onstage holding a banner - one woman looked as though she might have just finished treatment - she had about 1/8 inch of hair - and a glorious, triumphant smile! A physical therapist led us through about 15 minutes of stretching, and off we went! Folks were there to cheer us on our way in the breaking dawn. We walked 19.9 miles the first day - honestly, it wasn't that bad. Marilyn and I had trained well, and the exuberance of the crowd carried us on. Since I'd trained pushing 75 pounds of kids around the River Trail in a double stroller, this seemed easy!
There were about five pit-stops, along with lunch, where literally dozens of volunteers fed us, filled our water bottles with gallons of water and Gatorade (by the way, blue is much favored over orange), provided porta-potties (some even were decorated!), medical care, laughter and positive encouragement! There is a group of women calling themselves the "Cheerios" who taught us the chant, "Urinate, hydrate, stretch, stretch, stretch!" Very wise words from women who know! And now I know the mystery of "Pretty Woman Guy" - he drives his truck back and forth along the route blasting the song, "Pretty Woman." Actually, he alternates this with the theme from the movie, "Rocky." This guy is awesome!
By about 3:00 the clouds were thickening, our feet were starting to hurt and we were getting tired....and still it was nothing like the fatigue a person with breast cancer endures. On our last stretch into Coyote Point Recreation Area, the heavens opened and it poured! We squished our way into the campsite that was set up for us. It was great. We got our gear and our tent and mercifully, it stopped raining before we set up the tent. There were, again, lots of volunteers to help - they carried bags, set up tents for these who had never done it before, answered questions (like, what is the best way to apply moleskin, and can you remove it without removing vital layers of skin?). Once the tent was up, we went off to find the dining tent. We were certainly well fed! Salmon, wild rice, breadsticks, salad, green beans and a choice of desserts! We sat family-style at long tables, which was just as it should be. We stayed for the announcements, then decided to skip showers and go to bed....yes, Marilyn and I were in our sleeping bags, asleep, by 7:30 p.m.
Day 2 - Saturday, November 8
Wow - I felt pretty good! No muscle soreness, no blisters, the sore feet feel great! Ah, the recuperative powers of a good night's sleep....we made our way, again, to the dining tent - so much food! But I guess we need the calories. Grabbed a shower, packed up our tent and gear and off we went. Today we met Venus - she's a local and joins us for the rest of the walk...this is great - she's our tour guide! Sprinkles off and on today - we've heard that our campsite for tonight is flooded out from the rains yesterday. They will bus us back to Bay Meadows Racetrack to eat and sleep. But off we go to Daly City...we walked through some wonderful neighborhoods. You meet so many people...while walking, at the pit-stops, at lunch...it's amazing. We are all so different in so many ways, but at the core, we actually have far more in common than I had ever imagined. We are moms, dads, daughters, sons, friends, businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, students, white and blue and pink-collared workers, homemakers (okay, honestly, I didn't run into any others besides me) - but we are all here because we believe - we believe that we can make a difference, that we are not powerless, that many working together can do so much more than one individual...I met orphans, and widowers, and survivors! And I met one young man whose life had not even been touched by breast cancer - and he was there, walking....to make a difference. There were those with disabilities, with illnesses, with breast cancer, even, and we were all walking together...Some were fast, some were slow, and most of us were in between, but we all walked to raise money and awareness to fight this disease that touches so many lives.
The feet started hurting earlier today - around lunchtime. And my knee started hurting as well - I ran into this problem during training, and would rest for a day or two and it would be okay...that is not an option here. We are all starting to feel the miles....every step is a concerted effort to make it to the finish line. It starts raining again about 3:00 p.m. We keep slogging along, up and down the biggest hills I've ever seen (okay, maybe that's an exaggeration) until we make it to Junipero Sera Elementary School in Daly City. We are cold, we are wet, and we are tired...we are ushered briefly into a church next door to get a cup of coffee, the moved across the parking lot to an area where we wait for buses to transport us to the race track. It's still pouring rain...we are given mylar emergency blankets and told to stay wrapped up. There are 13 buses to transport 1404 walkers and nearly 400 crew members to Bay Meadows race track....needless to say, we are in for a long wait, since traffic in this area is a mite busier than I'm used to in Redding. We meet some new friends...we laugh a lot...we are so tired of standing. My left ankle is starting to hurt every time I put weight on it, so I'm standing on one leg. But it's nothing like what Christy's mom went through 13 years ago following her mastectomy and chemo, not to mention the radiation...After about an hour they started handing out those little disposable hand-warmers, and advise us if we start shivering and can't stop to flag down a volunteer medic. An ambulance takes someone away...we all wonder, and some of us pray...
Finally, it's our turn! We ride in blissful comfort to Bay Meadows...now I know a little of what it must feel to be taken to an emergency shelter following a natural disaster...I think of refugees, and the homeless. We are allowed to put our bags down - we find a spot near the betting machines and find the nearest bathrooms...blessed flush toilets! We then are told we can stake out a spot for our sleeping bags upstairs, but must leave the rest of our gear downstairs. Marilyn, Jackie, Venus, and I find a spot - it's carpeted! And it's in the Ladies Lounge....oh, well. We go outside to the buffet line (it's stopped raining) and go back in to find a table. We have dinner in the Sports Bar, but unfortunately they're not serving tequila tonight!
I then find my way to the medical triage tent. I see a nurse, get a quick massage and then the massage therapist decides I need more care....I wait some more and am seen by a chiropractic intern from Palmer College...again, these folks have donated their time to get us over the finish line! By 10:00 I find my way back to the Ladies Lounge and it's off to sleep...not for long, alas, as the flushing toilets are heard all night...and the crew awakens at 4:00 to get ready for the day.
Day 3 - Sunday, November 9
I head back to the medical tent to get my foot taped and knee wrapped, have some breakfast, and we wait for the buses again. I'm tired, I hurt, and we still have a full day. I am not giving up...it would be so easy to just take the bus to the finish line..there is no shame. Not every one can walk every step. But I'm going to see what I can do today. I spend most of the day walking behind my friends...but I meet some new folks this way, and spend some time walking alone in prayer. That's okay. And I meet up with Marilyn, Jackie, and Venus at every stop. And the day is absolutely beautiful. Lunch is pretty long today... When I arrived at Duboce Park, where we eat, I am in so much pain with every step I don't see how I can go on....I called John on my cell phone and he was so wonderful, so positive, so reassuring, but my body is screaming - I am almost in tears, but when I hear him tell me that he knows I can finish, I believe him.....I head over to the physical therapy area, and after some care, and ice, and re-wrapping, I'm good to go!
After about a half hour, the pain is back, but I am not giving up now. We finally enter Golden Gate Park, and it's one of those miraculous Sunday afternoons I remember from the Bay Area...families and singles are everywhere, enjoying the park...there are dogs and kids, volleyball games and roller-skaters, and everyone is cheering us on! I finally get to victory row, and every walker who has already finished is there in long rows for high-fives.....including the police officers from San Jose who have taken 4 days without pay to ensure our safety....I am in tears again, but this time they are tears of joy. I meet up with Marilyn, Jackie and Venus and we walk together to get our T-shirts and wait for the closing ceremonies....
We did it...we walked every step..we encouraged each other and laughed together and made new friends...but most importantly - we raised four million dollars!
I read this now and it all comes rushing back to me - every emotion, everybody's face, all of it. My life is so different now. In 2003 I was a blissfully unaware, happily married, stay-at-home mom. Today I'm divorced and working hard to support my wonderful kids who are growing so fast. But those three days in 2003 remain three of the most incredible days I've lived.
Go hug your mom, your sister, your best friend. Remind her to do a breast self exam, and if you're a woman, do one yourself. You owe it to the people who love you.