Friday, October 7, 2011

The journey

Walking 60 miles in 3 days is a big deal. This distance alone would be remarkable to most, the fact that we walk for reasons beyond ourselves is what makes this transcending.
This is my third 3 day experience. Each walk has been incredibly moving. This year had more than its share of tears ( and not from blisters or pulled muscles). This walk carried more significance because this year has had more challenges. And it was more meaningful because of people I met along the way.

Part of what this walk is, is, a victory dance over adversity. And there has been too much adversity around in 2011. Our dance therefore was epic.

Our team of six, Allison (our daughter) , Patti Bott, Barbara Bryant, Alicia Bryant and Judi Quinn Palmer each will have their own stories to tell. This is mine. This is what I will remember most from the Susan G Komen 3 day Walk for the Cure, Washington DC, 2011.

I don't know if you have ever before sat in the rain with a lunch bag, It really doesn't work very well. The bag just dissolves before your eyes. But somehow while the bags dissolved, the walkers only got stronger. It was as if with each drop of rain, the will to do the whole walk strengthened. Like a gauntlet had been laid down.

I know there were a few people who started this walk thinking "I'll just take the sweep van" "I'm not walking all 60 miles". We sat there staring blindly out in front of ourselves as the rain dumped on everything until smiles popped out on each face. Maybe we realized the rain wouldn't stop us. And each and every team member stood and walked the entire first day, sloshing and squishing along with determination and high spirits.

For me, perhaps the most significant memory of the walk will be carrying Olivia and Leslie.

I met Leslie when she and her husband Rob began looking for a house to move to in Mill Valley. It was one of those wonderful moments in life when one part of your life, intersects with another making perfect and complete sense. Leslie had read somewhere that I was a 16 year Breast Cancer Survivor. Since Leslie had recently gone through her treatment for Breast Cancer, she liked the idea of working with a fellow survivor. (Ok maybe the fact I am a top Mill Valley Real Estate agent helped a little).

When you work with one of the people in this family you are blessed to work with the whole crew. Leslie and Rob have three children Joe, Jack and Olivia. They also have parents who come to visit and help out from Pennsylvania. Now I have met a lot of children. My own were wonderful and quirky and amazing. But I don't think I have ever know three children so kind to each other and a family so beautifully connected.

In the middle of an escrow, on the day we were to remove contingencies for a home they were thinking of buying, Olivia had a seizure. Olivia, is only 2. She shouldn't be having a seizure. What has followed has been frightening and inspiring. How this family has navigated this I have no idea. What I do know is they have made real for me once again the urgency to find a cure for Cancer. No one should have to make the kind of decisions they have had to make about their little girl.

And what a little girl she is. She is spunky and bright and full of life. She has a smile and laugh that melts your heart. When I made the quilt for the fundraiser, it was quite obvious to me that this quilt was really meant for Olivia and her family. They have put the quilt in the "happy corner" where they huddle under it.

I made buttons to honor survivors and people lost to wear on the last mile of the 3 day. Dozens of them, but two buttons I wore all 60 miles - Leslie and Olivia. They were in my thoughts every step so I thought it only appropriate they be on the front of my shirt.

Susan G Komen's mission is to end Breast Cancer. In the process they have brought advances to all kinds of Cancer. I met a woman this year whose research (funded by Susan G Komen) is researching not only Breast Cancer but Pancreatic, Uterine and Ovarian Cancer. I am praying that one of the advancements will be the answer for all Cancers.

Olivia has just had a stem cell transplant. She will overcome this Cancer and she will be someone who changes the world. She and her family have already changed mine.

One major learning for me, was the chance meeting of Cate Edwards and Trevor Upham in Healdsburg a year ago.

It was in September and Patti and I had walked 18 miles in the hills around Healdsburg on a hot day. As we often do we try to plan a little reward at the end of the longest walks. Our reward this time was to stop into Toad Hollow. Toad Hollow had become one of our favorite wineries, not only because of their great wines, but because we met Jim Costa there.

Jim's wife Judy had passed away from Breast Cancer and he had even walked one day of the walk back in 2008 to honor her. We were chatting about the walk with Jim when I noticed the couple at end of the bar. I struck up a conversation with them.

They said they were recently engaged and lived in DC. He said he had just accepted a position at the National Institute of Heath. I told him a recent client had just done the same thing and suggested he probably would never know the guy since the Institute is so HUGE. But when I told him the name he laughed and said he had interviewed with him and would be working with him. The coincidences didn't stop there. The girl mentioned her Mother had Breast Cancer. I asked how she was doing and she said "She's done really well up until recently. It came back in her bones."

I told her to keep the faith. Her fiancee could tell her better than anyone of the advances that happen every day.And I suggested she and her Mother walk with us in DC in 2011. She said that would be something she would think about.

I went off just wishing the best for the young couple and her Mother. But Cate went back and the following weekend took her Mother to Mirror Lake in NY to celebrate her birthday. She told her Mother about meeting two women in Healdsburg who were walking in the Susan G Komen 3 day in DC in 2011. She told her that she wanted to walk in her honor.

Elizabeth Edwards, was her Mother.
She said "Well maybe I will walk with you."

Elizabeth Edwards (wife of presidential candidate John Edwards) had had her share of tragedy. But she never gave up.

The fact that we inspired her daughter to walk in the Washington DC 3 day will be one of the proudest moments of my life. I first found out they were walking because Trevor asked my permission to tell the story of how they decided to walk. It was wonderful to see Team Elizabeth at the 3 day, with their buttons of Elizabeth on their backpacks.

Elizabeth was walking with them.

During the walk I knew we would be walking past the White House. There had been a lot of discussion about tying pink ribbons on the fence as we passed. Many people were concerned we wouldn't be allowed to do this. Some were even concerned we would be arrested.

But many of us brought pink ribbons to use anyway.

The moment came very near the end of the walk. We zigzagged our way through nearby streets until we finally were at the White House. I pulled out the ribbon and some of the team had already picked a spot to tie their ribbons. But I couldn't really see the White House from where they were. I kept walking until the House was framed in my vision.

I looked at the White House and tied the ribbon on the fence.
My whole life I have felt one of things that means most to me is being heard. Doing something of consequence that makes a difference. As I tied that ribbon on the fence, I felt like I was heard. This is the best way I can explain the tears that ran down my face.

What we had done MATTERED.

There are moments in this walk when you feel tired and sore. And on this walk we felt wet and hot and sweaty. You eye the sweep vans and imagine in the van you could lessen some of the discomfort you feel. Then there are moments in this walk that take your breath away.

I first saw Bob King and Ashley on day one as I watched the walkers leave on the route. Seeing a man with an artificial leg participating in an event like the 3 day certainly would cause anyone to stop and take notice. But as the day wore on I saw him several more times. On day 2, he was in obvious pain. He had tears in his eyes when we saw him at a pit stop. His fiancee Ashley consoling him. I fully expected him to take a swept van to the camp. I almost went over to him to suggest he do that. But he didn't take the van.

Later at the last pitstop I went over to him and told him he was an inspiration. He said thank you and I went on to say to Ashley, "You are a lucky girl and he is a lucky man. You both are inspiring. " He walked the rest of the way to the camp with determination.

On Day 3 he had to bow out. There was an infection that developed in his leg that was very dangerous for him. He was admitted to the hospital. Ashley took his leg and walk the third day carrying the leg and in that way carried him.

This walk is about going further than you thought you could. It is also about walking for those who can't. This couple exemplified this perfectly.

I have since written Bob and asked his permission to tell this story. He said he would be honored. I am honored and humbled to tell it. He walked in 2010 to honor a friend who was a survivor who was pregnant and unable to walk. He added.
" I also have very important women in my life who I realize make my life so much better because they are around. Besides my beautiful... children and a handful of great friends; everything amazing in my life came from that first walk. I've now added thousands of women to my list of reasons why I will continue to walk."

How far can you go?
Life sometimes give you a gift that you realize may be one of the most incredibly ever. Being asked to stand in the Survivor Circle representing thousands of Survivors was one of those gifts. What came with it, was unexpected. Knowing the stories of the other 7 survivors who stood with me created for me a wider circle of people who "get it."

Each woman had a profound story to tell. Each woman was brave and strong and a fighter. One was still in the middle of their fight. A couple had just completed their treatment. I may have been the one who had survived the longest. I have realized that my survival is a great gift to others. It is the gift of hope.

The flag I carried was Belief. People have usually looked at me as optimistic - certainly tenacious and bullheaded. But Belief was something I needed to remind myself of as I stood in the circle. Standing there feeling the power of belief, helped me to fully accept that we will find an end to this disease. And it instilled in me a deeper commitment to keep fighting until we do.
There are people who say this walk should be more of a remembrance of people we have lost. They take issue with having too much fun on the way. But I disagree. This walk is like a symphony. There are hundreds of instruments that create the music. From the soft soulful sound of a cello to the brash and bold sounds of a temphony drum the sounds build and soften to the mood of the moment.

In the end this walk is a celebration of life. In the end the music is a triumph. In the end we swirl and dance and laugh out loud. We carry the joy with us as we return to our normal lives. The power of the music will remind us as days go on how it feels to take the silence around us and fill it with our collective voices. It is magic.

Team: Are We There Yet - Coast to Coast was a wonderful group of people, walkers certainly, but supporters aka stalkers, that made us the envy of the 3 day. Here are my thoughts about each.

Our son in law Chris has been a stalker in the past, but this year was different. Chris was our stalker driver through DC and Maryland, and that folks isn't easy. Although Chris lives in N. Virginia, he doesn't really know the area where we were walking. He had to endure a route that is not posted anywhere, his Father-in law in the passenger seat, Tom Tom, the exuberance of two woman, rain, parking, traffic and more.

He did it all with full commitment even on his 5th anniversary. I will always remember his entrance with the ice cream cones on Day 2. (Anyone within a 2 block radius would! The car kind of bottomed out as he came in to park). I will remember him rubbing Allison's feet in the Hotel. He is a warrior. And yes he does look good in a pink boa. Chris was a champion!
I have known Patty and Claire since 1991. Claire was our daughter Katie's best friend. We maneuvered a few challenging moments together. I worked with Patty while I was still being "Mommy". They are extraordinary women, both of them.
As stalkers, they took our Stalkers to another level. Ice cream, coffees, hooting and hollering. (I don't believe we had that before.) They both have a joy for life that you cannot miss.

Patty is not subtle. She is not a mystery. She is who she appears to be. That is a smart intelligent woman, a "go to" person. She is funny and deep and soulful and silly. She comes into a room and you have no doubt she has arrived. I find when I am around her , I dream a little bigger. I love Patty and I am so thrilled she will be walking with me next year in the 3 day. I know the walk will change her life in ways she didn't imagine, as it has mine.

Claire, has always been one of my favorite people. She has a wonderful laugh and is beautiful and charming. But Claire is one of those people who is very connected to her spirit and the spirit in others. She feels deeply. She thinks deeply. She is someone who will always be making the world a better place. For that reason and more I hope she will join us in the 2012 walk.


Alicia joined the team this year to walk with her Mother. Alicia is a sailor (really, she graduated from Cal Maritime). She works with boats (the big ones) and for fun she crews on racing boats. The physical work on these boats is intense at times. She didn't have the opportunity to train in the same way as we did. Even though she didn't make it all the way, I was blown away by her tenacity. She pushed herself (maybe too far) wanting to walk all 3 days. I felt her disappointment when in the end she just couldn't make it. But I for one was mightly impressed with how far she went (at least 40 miles!) I know it meant the world to Barbara to have her daughter there.

Curtiss had supported Barbara throughout her training. I am sure there were times when he would have preferred not walking on a training walk. They are retired and driving cross country exploring as much as they can. They pull their MacGregor boat just in case there is a place to put her in the water to sail. Barbara and Curtiss have done a lot of exploring. This 3 day has been Barbara's mission and having a spouse support that is so important.

You can tell all the Bryants love being around each other. We are so glad they could all come to DC especially because than meant Barbara could walk with us.


Judi Quinn Palmer. Judi went to Los Altos High School with me (graduating in 1971). We were never all that connected in High School . We knew each other for certain (but with my failing memory I couldn't really remember her very well!). Last year through Facebook, I think, we discovered we both were walking in the 3 day, she in Atlanta and I in SF. She said "I'll donate to you if you donate to me" and we did.

This year when I announced our DC walk she asked if she could walk with us. Her Georgia team were electing to crew and not walk in the 3 day this year. I said yes, of course, but I didn't know how it all would go. After all I was walking with my daughter and two sorority sisters.

How would Judi fit in?

Well, it was the perfect chemistry. Judi has a great sense of humor, mixed with that emotional makeup that has her crying just like us. She is tenacious, walking even though she was hurting, but she is mature enough not to push it too far. She had stories to tell, and we all loved hearing them. I left feeling there is so much more we have to hear. I am hoping, although, I suppose some of this is contingent on her team, she will walk in SF in 2012. If she does, I will walk in Atlanta at some point. I promise. I hear Atlanta is amazing on the 3 day.

Walking with Judi sure is.

My friend Barbara is my Tri Delta sister, past roommate and fast friend for 35 years. I was in her wedding. We saw them off on their round the world sailing adventure that lasted over a decade. She has been here for birthdays and Christmas parties and was one of the first members of Team:Are We There Yet? in 2009.

Barbara is optimism personified. It is hard to be depressed around her positive spirit. She is brilliant for sure, but she knows how to have fun. She is retired now and out enjoying life like she has done all her life. I only wish she lived closer, but I count myself blessed I have been able to share so much with her. And I look forward to many more adventures.

My friend Patti has had one heck of a year. Sometimes I am sure it felt as if life was just piling it on to see when she would break. Her husband had a seizure several months ago. The uncertainty of its cause, the surgeries and recovery were more than enough for anyone to deal with. John thankfully will be fine. His tumor was benign, and he is recovering rapidly.

All of this happened while the economy was bad and life had its own stresses. Then recently Patt's mother passed away at 93.

Don't let anyone tell you, losing an aging parent is easy. It isn't and Patti took it hard. The one sanity for her, and for me in hoping I could help, was training for the 3 day. We were able to go outside and breath the air and talk about life. We are both survivors in more ways than one.

I cannot imagine walking into a 3 day without her. This year Patti said she was walking slower than usual but she was determined to get ahead of me at the end so we could walk in arm in arm. As if I would ever walk in without her. She is a huge reason why I started this journey in the first place. I hope she will ALWAYS be walking with me. I am hoping we will be able to continue to do this incredible walk for years to come, together.

This is Allison's town now. She has come a long way. As a little girl in Mill Valley Allison
would always complain about her knee on walks. Her Dad would carry her the rest of the way home on his back.
Now Allison has completed 3, 3 day walks. She has been by my side and it has been a wonderful gift. As children grow you wish for their happiness and that somehow you will be able to be a part of their lives. Walking with Allison in DC, I saw her happy, satisfied and confident.

On occasions, Allison would run ahead. One time I practically ran to catch her. I got within ear shot and called "You're killing me! Slow down!" She was on a mission. She had started the walk saying she was going to sweep part of the walk. She didn't. I don't think it is the first time Allison has surprised herself with what she is capable of and it won't be the last. But somehow ... it never surprises me.

I have cherished the time we have been able to spend these past 3 years. I hope you get that foreign assignment you dream of, but, I also hope you can walk in SF in 2012 because I love walking with you.

My boa boy.

Blessed doesn't cover how I feel about being married to Glenn.
Every time I see my husband I get a little rush. No time do I feel that more than during the 3 day. He is an incredible man.

He is supportive. I think he recognizes what this means to me. I also feel, and maybe I am wrong, it means nearly as much to him. Why else would this guy unabashedly don a big bright pink boa and wander through streets leaving a trail of feathers behind. No one has to wonder if he has been around... those pink feathers and my smile says it all.

I am so fortunate to know what it feels like to have someone totally and completely accept and love me. We have been through some times Glenn and I. Times, I know I would never had made it through without him by my side. I know when I look at him I look with with eyes filled with love and pride. I do have to say, I think I have seen the same look in his eyes on occasion. How lucky am I?

And so now the walk is over and what I have gained is immeasurable. There is no way I am done yet. Cancer came into my life 16 years ago. It has stolen people from me who should have been around to share in this grand adventure called life. I see it trying to steal people still today. We have Cancer in our sights and I know we can stop it. We just have to keep walking, and keep shouting, and keep living. For when it comes to Cancer I have to tell you... Living is the best revenge.


SF 3 day here we come!