In 2009 the phone rang. I had the TV on in the background (Oprah most likely) and I went to pick up the call. It was my dear friend Patti calling to say she had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. In the background I could hear an ad for the Susan G. Komen 3 day in SF. Patti sounded scared. I was frightened for her. I had gotten that same news in 1995. Her call transported me back to that time when I had built a wall around myself to protect me from the fear of dying. I lived behind this wall for 14 years. There was something about this particular moment that created a crack in the wall. It ignited in me a spark that would allow me to finally break free. You see, I hadn't a clue in 1995 that there was something I could do besides hide. I could walk.
I looked at the TV and saw emotion filled faces and tennis shoes walking for a cure. I had seen these same people in the past and looked the other way. But with Patti's news still in my ear I said to myself.... "I could try to walk." That was a moment that changed my life.
Patti, thank God, faced her Cancer which was caught early and treated successfully, and joined me in this first SF 3 day walk. Our sorority sisters Jill and Barbara and my daughter Allison all walked with us as the very first Are We There Yet? team.
I took the training seriously. After all the day I started training I would get winded walking a mile. But each day a few extra steps helped me believe in the impossible. I could walk 60 miles in 3 days. I found with each and every step I took a very unexpected thing began to happen, I was breaking down this 14 year old wall, I was building a new foundation for my own belief in myself and my future. I was learning by facing this monster of Cancer head on, I took back my power. At the same time I was walking for others, I was taking back my own power.
At the 3 day we all were nervous about what was ahead. But the walkers and crew, the SJ Cops and the Hookers for Hooters all surrounded us with such love. And then for me, there was Glenn. He started off slowly. In the beginning this Boa Boy was a little bit pink challenged. But as he discovered that pink had its own power. He tells me about the first time he put a string of beads around a walkers neck and seeing how it turned her exhaustion into a smile. I can't speak for him, but I can guess, he too was discovering how this walk was allowing him to move beyond the fear we had lived in to a new and powerful place. We both were leaving Cancer behind.
We slept in little pink tents on Crissy Field while the gale force winds flag flew. We were nursed by medical for our blisters and injuries. We snuck off for showers at the St Francis. As we limped into holding, it seemed as if there was a half of a mile of people giving us high fives. My daughter Allison and I were injured. She had a stress fracture in her foot, and I had a blister the size of Montana. People snapped pictures of our tear streamed faces. I couldn't believe I had done this. I was filled with a feeling of accomplishment I never had felt before. We had done it. And in that euphoria I signed up for the next walk. The 3 day had given me more than I could have imagined.
2010 expanded our team and brought in some very important people from my life into the walk. Dana had said (about a week before the 2009 walk) that he was planning to walk with me that year. I told him he couldn't, he wasn't trained. I wouldn't allow it. I told him if he got his Dr.s ok and trained I would welcome him to the 2010 team and he DID! Stephanie who is a Godmother of our children signed up too. My younger daughter Katie signed up to walk also. So the team became Allison, Katie, Dana, Stephanie and Patti and me. Another team member was Kathy who was a survivor and an acquaintance of Patti.
Training became a time when I would reconnect with my friends, but also time I would reflect on life all by myself. The preparation for the 3 day requires you to take time for yourself. This was a gift I was surprised by. This year this team raised lots of money and we all grew closer in the common effort.
Some of the crew had become familiar faces. We loved "Welcome to my cross walk Bill" and on this walk I danced with a SJ cop outside a port-a-potty. We saw parts of SF I hadn't know existed. Some team members handled the challenges without too much effort. Even the challenge of (snoring) didn't stop Dana from sleeping in his pink tent on the first base line at the Presidio while the rest of the tents were safely in left field. And as in the past this walk allowed me to build even more on the foundation of self awareness and empowerment I had begun the year before. I also discovered this walk was becoming a way that I could educate people. Woman and men both called me when someone was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and asked for advise. I was proud to know the resources I could steer them toward existed because of the money we had been raising. But I also realized my "history" was their hope. So this time when they announced a "discount" to sign up for next year, and knowing Allison would be in Washington DC the next year, I signed up for DC in 2011. It hadn't occurred to me yet that I could walk more than one walk!
2011 I continued training knowing in October we would head back east for the walk. But Patti and I just could not stay completely away. We volunteered at the SF 3 day and helped out at camp. We even did a training walk with them on their day 2 (although there was one walker who really didn't think that was cool). I had begun to feel like a veteran. Not walking San Francisco for all 3 days was a little strange. Like there was a party and they forgot to invite you! But it was great to see familiar faces at their camp on Treasure Island. (We even directed some to the winery that was staying open late for the walkers just outside the perimeter).
What I also discovered in 2011 was how amazing it was to walk in a new city. You get to know these places in a way you simply cannot by just being a tourist. And I saw DC in a different way when I was asked to be in the survivor circle, I truly felt as if I could embrace the title survivor. So in DC wanting to "have it all" I signed up for SF and San Diego. There was a piece of me that wanted to do all 14 cities. (Ok I lot of me did!)
2012 was special. Three new people joined our team. Patti choose to walk just San Diego but in San Francisco we had Leslie a 3 year triple negative Breast Cancer survivor, Patty who has been a long time friend, Judy from Atlanta is a high school friend of mine and Allison back out from DC.
The fundraising and the walk took on a different feeling after Komen announced it was cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. It felt as if my walk had been hijacked by social media and political agendas. It was harder to raise funds. It was less "fun" to talk about pink as many people on the pro and con side of the debate lost sight of WHY we walk. So during this time, I examined everything about Komen, and looked deep into my own feelings. I came away more convinced than ever Komen was and is the best organization for ending this disease. I found on this walk that it wasn't hard to walk with pro life people and pro choice people all at the same time. Their eyes were on the truth and not sound bites. They knew we all were saving lives.
So as the walk began, it began with determination and commitment.
It also began with new purpose. The morning of the walk Allison announced she was expecting a baby. It was early in the pregnancy and they had told her she couldn't exert herself. Leslie, a doctor, re-enforced this and we made sure Allison only walked for part of the walk. She her husband Chris joined Glenn to stalk in pink boas.... The walk's focus was for our children. Leslie's daughter Olivia had been diagnosed with Brain Cancer at the age of 2.5 Leslie signed up for this walk on the last day of Olivia's treatment. Now there was my grandchild and Olivia to focus on. Somehow the din of the sound bite press fades when you listen to the call of your children's future.
I was given the high honor of being selected to make the survivor speech at camp. I was also asked to fill in as a flag bearer carrying my flag BELIEF. The significance of this walk, in this challenging year, can't be overstated. I was given the chance, in a tent full of people, to explain how important it was to believe. How cool is that?
We began in Marin, minutes from my home. We stayed on Treasure Island. We tool the Red and White ferry and walked the streets of the East Bay. All of this was new for me! I was impressed with the spirit of the people on the streets in the east bay, from the lady playing the pipes on her front stoop to the slices of watermelon and multiple signs. I walked away from there with a new appreciation for Berkeley I couldn't have gotten in any other way.
But on this walk.... I found the mood to be somewhat down. There were no SJ cops. The numbers were down. The noise was less. I was worried. So, as I had promised Judy, I signed up for Atlanta but debated about SF. They announced they would be moving the date to June and that would be 6 months after I finished San Diego. I didn't think I could do one that soon. I was debating this until Leslie announced "I am walking with you, someone has to create a world without Breast Cancer for your grandbaby." So I signed up for 2013 SF and Atlanta.
It is nearly 2 weeks since we began the 2013 3 day. Whereas the mood of 2012 was a bit down among the walkers, I don't believe I have ever seen a more positive, passionate group of people than the 420 walkers and 200+ crew. I can admit to being nervous about what we would find. I mean it was announced Komen had decided to drop SF from the 2014 calendar. I worried that even I would be melancholy throughout the entire walk. I decided, at least for me, I would do whatever I could to leave SF and Marin with a pink glow that may prompt a return some day. I set about doing this by contacting businesses and houses along the route in Marin to come out to show support. I also bought some balloons and made some signs that would fill in any gaps as they walked through Mill Valley. And I made jello shots knowing just the right guy to hand them out!
What I discovered was, despite my fears there were people who truly appreciated the 3 day and the money we have raised. Sometimes, what it takes is being asked. Although a lot of promises were made to decorate the way for us, I was impressed with how many actually followed through. What I also was impressed by was the people who had come from far and wide to cheer and walk with us. My heart soared when I saw the Marquette on the Theater in Mill Valley, the balloons on the parking meters, the smiles at my office.
I saw familiar faces, but also new ones. Our 3 day community is one that exists beyond the walk itself. We chat, facebook, visit each other. But we love to show our own town to walkers who haven't been here. When Sheri asked who were first time walkers I was surprised to see how many hands went up. These people are the future of Komen and here they were. I was tremendously proud of the kind of walk they got to experience. I am sure they will be a part of us for years to come.
Talk along the way never lingered on the sadness of losing the 3 day in SF, it morphed to where were we going to walk next. Teams talked with teams, ideas were floated and I truly believe, these 420 people will walk again. Some in Seattle, some in San Diego or one of those east coast cities. As the economy recovers and Komen grows stronger along with it, I hope we will return one day. But I have no doubt we will remain 3 dayers all the way.
This walk.... this walk had a mother from Pittsburg walking with her survivor daughter, celebrating her granddaughters survival from Brain Cancer. It had a SJ cop riding again in memory of his Mother and his cousin and celebrating on day three with his little son. The walk had people who were walking in their final SF walk after walking in each and everyone of the walks and it had young women and men just discovering the power that exists in each and every one of us. There were people walking who had just finished their chemo and survivors like me celebrating years of kicking Cancer's Ass. It also had friends and family missing their angels taken too soon. The SF Bay greeted us with weather and views to remember for ever but for me I will remember the people. I will remember our crews and our Cops, dancing with the Hookers and crying with the survivors in the circle. I will remember the unique combination of unreal scenery with beautiful faces struggling through blisters and pain to end a disease that has been brought to its knees by our resolve. I will remember each and every day of each and every walk as a gift I have been given that I will treasure forever. AND I will, I will be there when we all join again in SF to show the world WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP. I promise you, for me and these people that is not an idle promise... it is one we live each and everyday.
So join me in the meantime as we walk in other cities and help to rebuild the Komen 3 day to be what it has always been, the boldest way to fight Breast Cancer.
3 days you will remember forever. 3 beautiful days.
SIGN up after July 29th. If you would like to join me.... I will be in Seattle.