Walking the Walk

                                                       My journey to the 2006 Atlanta Breast Cancer 3 Day

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My journal

 

UPDATES:

I had wanted to make the text on this entry pink because I wanted you all to get a feel for what last weekend was like, however, the pink type was too difficult to read and I want this entry to be read.  Many thanks to Greenthumb for your donation for six survivors and also to Motherofthree for your donation that helped make last weekend possible for me.  I left pink ribbons at seven places along the route in honor of your donations.

Last weekend was the Atlanta Breast Cancer 3-Day.  If you don't know what that is, it is a three day event where the participants walk 20 miles for three consecutive days to raise money through pledges for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.susangkomen.org/).  The money raised goes to fund breast cancer education, research and treatment.  It is an awesome event.  I have wanted to participate in it for several years, but until this year I was not healthy enough to do it.    It turns out that this year I was only just healthy enough to pull it off, but that may have saved me from painful blisters and shin splints.

On Friday morning October 20, I was driven to North Point Mall in Alpharetta Ga, and dropped off  there.  I was wearing a UPS shirt so I'd be easily identified by my team members who hadn't met me until that time.  The first thing that happened was I walked through a large group of DHL team members who (in jest and good nature) heckled me.  I found my team members and before long the opening ceremonies began.  It was the kind of pep rally/aroebic stretch that I thought it might be, but after it was over we started on the journey of 60 miles. It became very quickly apparent that if I intended on keeping up with my long legged team mates I was going to end up with massive injuries and may not be able to finish the course, so I slowed myself to my pace and began meeting other walkers along the route.  I had heard that these women were absolutely crazy and I must admit from what I saw  that was a good assessment of the case.  There was a woman who had gotten the kind of fake boobs that you buy at a store like Spencers to make a gag cake for a batchelor party and glued them to a pink baseball cap.  Another large group of women were wearing tutu's made out of netting and pink and white ribbons with the names of survivors and those lost to breast cancer written on them.  There was an Oncology Surgeon who was walking wearing a tee shirt with the words "Saving Boobs Across America" printed on it.  One woman was wearing a tee shirt that said "Honk if you like Hooters".  And all morning I walked with these people and didn't meet another survivor.  I was beginning to think that I was the only one.  After the second pit stop I was walking alone for a while when a lady named Meryl asked me if I had a team.  I told her yes, but if I tried to keep their pace I was afraid that I'd get hurt.  She asked me to walk with her and a few other loners that she'd met up with.  The group was Meryl who is a journalist, Melba who is a young mother and Amy who is a pediatric nurse from Iowa.  The were an interesting group, but they weren't survivors either.  They were happy to finally meet one.  For the most part they were there because they wanted to get involved with a cause that was bigger than them and escape their lives for a few days. I told them the story of my cancer and I think that it upset them that it can happen to someone who doesn't have any risk factors, and it can happen so fast.  But after I said I was a survivor, no one asked why I wanted to be involved in the walk, as if being a survivor was enough of a reason.  It was probably a good thing because I didn't have a formalized answer to that question.  I walked with them for the rest of the day and ate with them that evening.  Afterwards I found my tent (or so I thought) and set it up, got a shower and decided to go right to bed.  But Georgia weather in October is very volitile and while we had good weather during the day for the walk, the temperature was heading down to freezing.  I knew that my sleeping bag and blanket wasn't going to handle the cold, so I put on every stitch of clothing that I'd brought for the weekend.  I wasn't that cold during the night, but I'm not used to having any light while I'm sleeping and others walking around the camp with their flash lights kept waking me up.  When I finally got up, I hated to take off the extra layers of clothing that had kept me warm during the night.  After breakfast I was supposed to meet Meryl and the group, but I waited almost until the deadline to leave camp at the designated spot and didn't see them.  I then decided that I'd better leave or I would have a difficult time keeping up with the schedule.  I had only walked a few minutes before I met Donna, who had also come with a group who were leaving her behind.  She and I walked together most of the morning.  She was there like Meryl and the group to become involved in a cause and to escape her life for a few days.  She is a mother of young children and she works full time.  She is a thyroid cancer survivor.  She did most of the talking.  We walked most of the morning together, but she had some pretty nasty blisters from the day before, and eventually went to the medical tent to be treated for them and decided to take one of the vans to the lunch stop.  This delay put me at the back of the pack, but most of the people who were there were hobbling for one reason or another.  I met Betty and Pam who work at one of the local radio stations.  Pam decided to do the walk because her station was sponsoring the walk, and she talked Betty into walking with her.  The also were excited to meet me because I was the first survivor they'd met.  They were walking with C.J. and Tom and Nancy.  C.J. is from California and had been paralyzed 20 years before in a car accident.  She worked hard to get the use of her legs back and now wanted a challenge.  Tom is a retired Marine, school teacher who has an artificial leg due to a car accident.  Nancy is his fiance' who was walking for a friend who has breast cancer.  Once again, my story seemed to disturb them too much.  Like, the reality that it can happen and you can't really say "it won't happen to me".  In fact, I kind of got the feeling from many of the people who were there that they were doing this as a penance to keep this terrible thing away from them.  And there I was living proof that even regular mammograms won't guarantee that you'll be safe.  But of everyone I walked with, this group was probably the most real, and down to earth and inspiring of them all.  At lunch I met up with Meryl and the group again, but C.J. was waning and I wanted to stay with her.  We walked together until the middle of the afternoon when we met up with Joy and Judy.  They are sisters and shortly after Judy's mastectomy Joy was diagnosed with breast cancer.  They both had bilateral mastectomies and TRAM reconstruction.  We had a lot in common, and somehow in the flow of the crowd, I lost C.J.  Joy and Judy found another group and I spent a lot of the mid-afternoon doing what is called "Lizzard Brain".  It means just mindlessly following the footsteps in front of me.  At this point I began to really get to know a lot of the safety crew.  They were there checking up on me, and pointing me in the right direction of the route.  Finally the crew member that I'd dubbed "The Chief" because he wore a child's indian headdress radioed the medical crew at the next pit stop and I was flagged for a visit. A paramedic named Todd pulled me into the tent and took my blood pressure and looked at my feet.  My blood pressure was only slightly high and Todd was amazed that my feet were in perfect condition.  The truth is that I was exhausted and my feet hurt like hell, but I wasn't going to tell him that.  He made me stay until I ate a snack and my bp went down a bit, but he had me flagged for the rest of the event.  I was really beginning to consider calling it a day and flag down a sweep van when I was at a road crossing.  The crossing guard was on the other side of a major road and blaring music that he was dancing too. A girl that I'd been talking too, and only remember that she is from Florida and I began to dance with him.  When it was safe, he stopped the traffic and we all danced across 141 in Duluth.  The girl faded into the crowd and once again I was getting close to flagging down the vans, when a mother and her three little girls were on the side of the road waiting for us with popsicles. Not far from there the volunteers from Gwinnett Medical Center were cheering us on and then I fell into a group of middle aged women who were walking because if they wanted better treatments to be available if they should need them.  Most of them knew someone who'd had breast cancer, but again I was the first they'd met at the walk.  We pulled into the last pit stop of the day and C.J was there waiting for me.  She and I finished the last 3 miles of the route and made our way back to the camp.  Her team was waiting for her, and I was too tired.  I ate and bathed.  But that was the end of it for me.  We were told to expect rain by morning, so I again dressed in all the clothes I had with me, threw a tarp over my tent and went to bed.  At 5 am I was wakened to hear everyone taking down their tents in the pouring rain, and I quickly packed and got drenched taking down my  tent even though I was wearing a poncho.  I was on my way to breakfast when Todd found me and pulled me into the medical tent.  I was scolded for not showing up to get my bp taken after dinner, but I told him that I'd gone straight to bed.  My blood pressure was 130/80, which isn't that bad.  Todd told me to meet him at the second pit stop.  I had a cheese blintz at breakfast that if it hadn't been rained on may have been good.  The busses couldn't make it up the hill to get out of camp so we had to wait until the rain stopped.  But as soon as we could all be loaded on the busses we went to walk in Chamblee.  I was finally in neighborhoods that I was familiar with.  I wasn't on the route for 10 minutes when I met Donna again.  Her blisters were worse and I was sure that the hills of this neighborhood were going to be hard on her.  She mentioned that the houses looked like the houses that she'd grown up in in NJ.  She and I walked the whole day together.  When I had to stop for a blood pressure check, she took care of her blisters.  We walked with C.J. and Tom for a short while, but Tom and Nancy got on the van, and C.J. stayed to rest at one of the medical tents.  We had lunch with Meryl and Melba.  Amy had developed shin splints and blisters and boarded the bus to be taken to the Park.  My ex and Lizzie were at the last cheering station and it was wonderful and emotional to see them there.  As we walked the three days there were designated cheering stations, and they were wonderful.  But more than that were the impromtu ones along the route.  Many, many people came out to their mailboxes and to street corners just to cheer us on and to encourgage us. Churches that we passed would have messages on their signs for us and members out there cheering us on.  Then there was the motorist all along the route whom we were holding up at intersections as we crossed the roads.  They were honking at us and waving and giving us thumbs up signs.  I think for one weekend the city of Atlanta was accutely aware of Breast Cancer. A building that we call the Queen Building was lit up in pink, and my friends say they saw me on the news.  That they can describe what I was wearing makes it likely that they did.  After the last cheering station Donna and I made it to the last pit stop.  Todd took my blood pressure one more time and I ate the last of the oranges and raisins and pretzels of the walk.  All we had left to finish the walk was "Heartbreak Hill".  Heartbreak Hill isn't indigenous to the 3-Day, but is a very well known hill here in Atlanta due to the Peachtree Road Race.  Piedmont Hospital is on Heartbreak Hill and it's a good thing.  People are known to collapse on the hill during the road race.  Donna and I took it slow and finally made our way into Piedmont Park for closing ceremonies.  Donna went one way to collect her victory tee shirt and I went the other to collect my Pink survivor shirt.  The volunteers in the holding area were all my co-workers from UPS and I got a lot of attention.  The DHL walkers were no longer heckling me.  A few more oranges, a foot massage and then I met up with Meryl and Donna again.  We were so tired we sat down on a curb and danced to the music.  Before long it was time for the victory lap and we all marched in.  The survivors where the last in, and I heard the announcer say "For these women it is not enough to have beaten cancer personally, they want to do more.  They want to irradicate breast cancer for all women" and there it was. That is why it was so important to me to do this.  That is why I didn't want to get on the vans even though I was so tired that I couldn't really think.  I wanted to do my part to irradicate breast cancer for everyone.  That was the bottom line.  I slept all of Monday, and now a week later I'm just beginning to understand how close to the edge I was on that walk.  It was a difficult as chemotherapy.  It was just as worth it.

So once again, Thank you Greenthumb and Motherofthree for helping me realize this dream.  Your money will be well spent.

Lisa

 

It's official!  I joined the nearly 3000 people who will be walking to raise money for Breast Cancer research, education and treatment.  And I am excited.  This was a big decision for me.  Not only am I taking a risk that I'm going to owe a lot of money int the end, but I have to walk to get into shape for this event.  The event itself is a 20 mile walk on 3 consecutive days.  The proceeds of the walk go to support teh Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and the National Philanthropic Trust.