It started in a flash of a morning last Thursday. Throwing too many things into the trunk of Stephen's car and hitting the road for our 6 hour drive down to San Diego. A group of four friends - all with different experiences but a common goal - a cure for breast cancer. Stephen and Todd have both been touched many times by this disease - Todd's Grandmother, Stephen's Grandmother and Mother and their beloved dance teacher - Pat Jackson - all struggled with diagnosis, treatment and fear. Some of them survived - some did not. I lost my mother at a young age to breast cancer and battled this past year to become a survivor. Suzanne - was only recently touched by this disease on a personal level this year as she watched me struggled with (and helped me through) the process of beating breast cancer. The boys were veterans to the Susan G Komen 3 day walk - Todd was participating for the seventh time (he has either walked or crewed it every year) and Stephen had walked it several years ago. Suzanne and I were virgins and had no idea what was in store for us.
We spent the afternoon laughing until we cried - those would not be the only tears shed over our journey. Stephen drove the entire way down and stood up out of the car with sciatic pain - oh dear - not a good way to start out.
We woke up at 4:45 on Friday morning with a spring in our step ready to take on the day (after several cups of coffee). We threw on everything we could that was pink and made our way to Del Mar Fairgrounds for the opening ceremony. It only took a few bars of music for the tears to start flowing. We honored those who we have lost to breast cancer and celebrated those who have survived. We were reminded of why we were there. It took awhile to get going that day - so many people. Think traffic jam on foot. Over 4 thousand people walked along the coastline in the longest pink parade you have ever seen. We were lucky that day - no rain. The weather was perfect for walking and the scenery was beautiful. 20.5 miles. It took us 9 hours to reach camp at Mission Bay. I stopped by the medical tent at our last pit stop because my knee was bugging me so much. The boys were in pain (multiple areas) but Suzanne seemed to fly through without injury. I was worried we would not get through the next day.
Saturday morning we woke up to rain and wind. We dressed for what we thought would be a very wet day. Multiple layers, ponchos and grocery bags duct taped to our shoes and legs. Again it was slow going but we were all in a hurry to get through the day. We were cold and wet for hours. Our feet were soaked by the second pit stop even though we had the grocery bags on them. Pain started to set in in areas we didn't know existed. By lunch time we had walked 10 miles but it felt like 30. When we arrived at the lunch site I almost started crying because they were nice enough to bring buses for us to eat our lunches on - finally a dry, warm place. After lunch we headed out again - by this time Suzanne's knee was giving her all kinds of grief and she walked with a pretty severe limp. We headed out along the beautiful coastline into roaring winds and a torrential downpour. All we could do was laugh. Our ponchos were flying over our heads, we couldn't see because the rain was hitting us so hard and all 4 of us looked like we needed walkers. It was comical. Throughout all of this I didn't hear one complaint. People of all sizes, shapes and ages walking along side each other putting on a happy face. Hundreds of people were along the route cheering us on in the rain. Offering us candy or drinks. I couldn't believe how much support we had and it made it that much easier to keep going. What we were doing was bigger than the weather.
By day three we were ready to be done. Suzanne's knee was still a mess but she wanted to hobble through. We had more rain and it was much colder. Somewhere around mile 8 I started to lose it. I had a blister the size of my baby toe (on my baby toe), my hips, knees, ankles and feet were screaming and I was tired. Tired of being wet. Tired of walking. Tired of pain. I had often wondered why on earth they made people do this 3 day walk. Why walk 60 miles in 3 days? Now I know why. When you get beaten down to a point where you think you can't go on - be it blisters and pain 3 days into a walk, or your second to last chemo treatment, or the loss of a loved one who was taken from you too soon - you find that with determination, and perseverance, and support and love - you can go on. You CAN make it to the finish line, you CAN get through the treatment, and we CAN find a cure.
As we neared the finish line I was full of simple relief. I was looking forward to taking my shoes off and preparing myself for what was sure to be an emotional closing ceremony. I was taken aback when I walked through the finish line to a booming party. The music was blaring and everyone - EVERYONE - was smiling and high fiving us. Looking us in the eyes and yelling things like "Great Job!" - "You did it!" - "Thank you!" and " Congratulations!". It took me a minute to realize I was walking though a sea of hundreds of fellow walkers - people who had just done what I did and were there to cheer the rest of us on. It was the first real moment where I felt like I not only conquered this walk but conquered cancer. It felt like those people - who didn't know me - were high fiving my efforts in my fight to beat that disease. And I cried. I cried like a baby.
We made it through to the tent where we picked up our shirts - grey for crew, white for walkers and pink for survivors. On the back it says "invincible".
After everyone made it through the finish line we formed a parade into the closing ceremonies where family and friends were waiting. They separated the "pink" shirts from the white and grey shirts. I hugged my friends and went with the other survivors to the top of a hill. I didn't know any of these women I was standing with. They were all ages - from 26 on up. All with a common bond. I looked down on that sea of white and grey and I was overwhelmed with gratitude. So thankful for all of those people who walked. Thankful for all of the people who supported those walkers - thousands and thousands of them. Thankful for my donors, my friends, my family. It hit me how big this thing is. It hit me how we can to anything if we work together.
I thank all of you for supporting me. Everyone has different gifts and you all are helping us find a cure for breast cancer. I especially want to thank Suzanne, Stephen and Todd for experiencing this journey with me. We had quite a ride - lots of laughter, lots of tears and lots of pain. But in the end we helped raise more than 10 million dollars (in San Diego alone) to help find that cure. You are amazing, amazing friends.
I am already planning my next 3 day walk. I wish everyone could experience the ups and downs of this adventure - it is truly life changing. We are not done yet. I have 3 people I know right now who are finishing or are in the middle of treatment. We need to do everything we can. We WILL find a cure.