Monday, May 16, 2011


K, y'all, this is going to be a post where I get all serious like.

This weekend, I participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Boston, MA. I think you have to do two of these events to truly appreciate what your role means in the grand scheme of things. The first event was kind of a lark for me. I wanted to see how far I could push my body. The fundraising and comraderie were secondary. Because I didn't know what to expect, my discoveries overrode the experience. And, for those that know me, while my training was okay, I could, and should have done more. At the end of the event, I was satisfied. I walked 39.3 miles in Washington, DC. I endured semi-miserable weather (well, miserable for a walking event), a sprained ankle and unbearable humidity to be able to say "I drove myself farther than I've eer gone before and honored my aunt and my grandmother for their winning battles." I was done. I wasn't going to do it any more. The fundraising was hard, the walk harder, and saying that people had it way worse in fighting the disease was cold comfort. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I dropped my pack, grabbed my gear and went home. I was more affected by what I endured (sobbing openly like a child when I saw my daughter) than what I was making possible.

Then I had a conversation with a friend who was battling breast cancer for the second time. I saw her after her second surgery and her positive attitude blew me away. My aunt and grandmother had their battles in the 80s. While I was aware that things could turn for the worse for them, I wasn't aware of what their battles were like. To see my friend, days after losing her second breast, congenial, lovely and just so ALIVE, I was inspired. So I decided to walk again, only this time, I would raise more, I would train better and I would bring a POSSE with me! That's right, we would be a breast cancer fighting POSSE!!!!

I won't bore you with the details, but some of that didn't happen. I inspired others to walk in different cities, so that was awesome! I raised more money than I had the year before, and that was outstanding! But I let things interfere with my training. I sprained my ankle a month out from the walk, and any hope of training was dimmed. My posse had dwindled to one stalwart friend. My roars had died down to a whimper. My main hope was to survive the weekend. Definitely not a good way to go.

Something happened along the way. I began to appreciate the experience I was there for. I didn't have to do the full 26 the first day, and that was okay. I had good conversations with random people. The weather was perfect for walking, and seeing this great, historic city at my pace was awesome. I saw people with signs saying "I'm walking so my kids won't have to know this disease" or "I'm walking for my aunt who lost her battle" and "I'm walking for my mom". I saw an entire group of men who are there, not only to support the walk, but to support the walkers themselves. They carried everything a walker could possibly need: sunscreen, safety pins, duct tape. They carry you in song along the route and they give you high fives at the end of each day. I told my husband that when our daughter grows up, I want him to do the exact same thing. And at the end of the day, I got to enjoy the services offered, with minimal waiting: Yoga, massage and the Spaaaaaaaaah! Zone. The staff and volunteers were super supportive and friendly. The people along the route, who didn't know you from Adam, cheered you on and gave you Flavor Ice. I began to appreciate the community and the camraderie. I wasn't focused on the walk, I was focused on the experience and that made all the difference for me.

On the final day, since I was in a foreign city and would depend on a transportation service to get me back to my hotel, I was dependent on someone else. The transportation service wouldn't be running until after the closing ceremonies. I dreaded having to wait. The rain held off until the end of the walk, but I was drenched and just wanted to get back to my hotel to take a hot shower and change into warm dry clothes. Fortunately, we were able to stay inside while we waited. When it was time for the closing ceremony, the walkers lined in and filled corrals. But the middle corral was empty. As I stood there, I thought of nothing more than my sore feet and my hot shower. Suddenly, the corral started filling with breast cancer survivors. Oh, hey look, there's a guy. That's cool. And then, it happened. I saw a woman whose hair was fuzzy from growing back. As she looked around at all the people who were there support her in her fight against cancer, her face crumpled. She was not alone. I was suddenly grateful for the rain, as it meant my tears could mix in with the rain. THIS, this woman who was able to beat the cancer, my friend who beat it twice, my aunt, my grandmother...THIS is why this walk is so important.

I'd like to tell you that when I left closing ceremonies, my body no longer ached and my feet no longer hurt. Alas, that was not the case. But again, an amazing thing happened on the bus back to the hotel. I sat next to another survivor who won her battle three years ago. Because of her breast cancer surgery, she will forever have to wrap her arm so that it doesn't dangerously swell. She was happy to tell me that this was her second walk and her first walk was completed on her birthday. She was grateful not only for the chance to celebrate another birthday, but to be able to walk! Incidentally, today is her birthday. And as I walked off the bus, others I met throughout the weekend, said "Safe travels, Virginia". You can't buy an experience like that.

I hope that as you read this, you're inspired to participate in a cause you strongly believe in as well. It doesn't have to be breast cancer (though, really, who doesn't like boobies??), but find something that can center you as this did for me. You won't regret it for a second.

I'm already registered for Chicago next year and I will continue to try to build my posse. Because, in the immortal words of the Avon Walk Slogan "My name is Kelly, and I am in it to end it!"

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