Friday, October 9, 2009

Every precious moment

I want to find the perfect period.

A pedometer marks how far you have gone, how many calories you have burned and how long it has taken to get there. But there is no such devise to mark how this challenge has made us feel or how it has helped us grow as human beings. One way to discover what it all MEANS, I thought, was to ask my team mates for the one lesson they are taking away from this grand adventure.

I quickly found out, when Jill responded to my query, the question was not easily answered. She said she'd tell me hers if I told her mine. I proceeded to weed through the dozens of "ah-ha moments" I have had along the way, settling on a couple of themes, but just one lesson is one of those hard requests. As Team: Are We There Yet? called in or emailed their lessons, it was obvious we all have walked away from this journey imminently richer, immeasurably wiser and more connected to each other than we ever dreamed in March when we first began.

On the day I decided to sign up for the 2009 Breast Cancer 3-day, I had no idea what this challenge would bring me. It seemed to me like I was planning to walk on the moon. I didn't know if I had it in me to make it all the way to the end. But, the commitment I made was real. I knew what I had to do was get up put one foot in front of the other and be patient. If I didn't give up and kept on walking I would get there. One of the most important things I learned on this journey is that there are no people more precious in the world, than those who will stand by your side on a great quest. These are people who are there for you and by you when life is most challenging. They stand by you and hold you up even when it is inconvenient and not easy. By walking with Jill, Patti, Barbara and Allison a deeper and more profound friendship has developed. We will always have this experience in common. We will always understand one more facet of each other. What I saw was an awesome display of tenacity, determination, empathy and love.
Jill's email arrived with her lesson learned.
I think you will find throughout a common theme in each of the responses.

I learned a lesson about the strength of women united for a cause: Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength.

This made me remember Jill, vainly trying to catch us on day 2, when she thought we were ahead of her, but we were actually way behind her. She walked the entire day on her own. It was the longest of the days. Many people would have given up and grabbed the sweep van to wait in camp, but as Jill said, she had a "fire in her belly" that made her complete the entire 22.5 miles. When we saw her finally it was with a glass of wine in her hand and a huge smile on her face.

Barbara called me and said she simply couldn't put her feelings into an email. So it may be hard for me to translate her thoughts into this post, but I will try.
Her feelings came from watching some of the dedicated
women who walked last weekend. She said her lesson was about how human beings can overcome great obstacles when they are motivated to achieve a goal. Barbara said she saw this often when she and Curtiss were on their round the world sailing adventure, and she saw the same spirit on the 3 day. She pointed to the example of one young mother who, along with her mother, were the last to arrive on the 2nd day. Barbara asked the woman's mother about their walk, and the mother explained. "We were last because my daughter needed to stop to breastfeed her baby." Then on the 3rd day as we were walking to the closing ceremonies, Barbara saw this young woman sitting on the curb, feeding her baby again. Another woman likewise impressed Barbara. She also was a mother. The woman's husband and children met her somewhere along the walk on the last day. The children were crying hysterically, holding on to her legs and begging the Mom not to go. In a calming voice, she reached down and hugged her children and explained, "I have to finish this walk." Barbara spoke with her later and mentioned how hard that must have been. The Mom said, it was hard, and her knees were ready to give up on her, but she had committed to finishing this walk and she was going to finish it. Then finally Barbara pointed out how inspiring it was to see Allison, in obvious pain, but with a huge grin on her face throughout the walk. It showed her, she said, how far determination can take us as human beings if the goal is important enough.

Patti's walk was personal. Check back to see what her lessons were (she's still working on them). Having walked with Patti, she approached this walk like she did the Hawaiian Marathon she ran a few years back. She was the one with all the knowledge about Sharkies and stretching. She took on this challenge and (according to her trainer) overdid some of her training. She was the one who would go farther than the suggested miles in order to prove we could do it. She and I stood in the survivor circle together, and I know, that is something she never experienced before.....

The walk taught me how much my daughter Allison is like me. She is determined, tenacious (sometimes to a fault some would say.) To see Allison limping on the last two days, and seeing the steely determination on her face to finish the walk was like looking in a mirror. She right now is in an interview, and she has a full blown fever. Once she surfaces from the flu and the interview I will post what she learned from the walk. She has told me there were so many things she learned she had to think about about it....

The walk taught us all a lot of lessons about how determination can take us the distance in great challenges. I believe, I have always known this. But as a cancer survivor, I took away something I hadn't expected. Walking into the holding area was an overwhelming experience. The waves of emotion poured over me like a tsunami. Almost as if the past fourteen years had been bottled up behind a stone dam. The significance of what we all had done was so powerful, it blew the past out of the way and allowed me to walk ahead into the rest of my life. Cancer had stolen from me the ability to control my own destiny fourteen years ago. Over the past six months of training and during the 3 day walk, I was given back the ability to chart my own course.

What lesson did I learn on the 3 day? What have I taken away from this experience? I have taken away my own power. My own power. My own power. And with that I can do anything.

P.S. If you have enjoyed this blog, I would ask that you please make a small donation to my 2010 walk.

Your donation will mean the world, because it is one more step toward a world without breast cancer.

If you would like to walk with me and our team in 2010, just let me know, I will send you the information on how to sign up. Serious training will not begin until April 2010, but.... make the commitment now. Amazing things happen when people work together for a greater good.

And now... this blog is on hiatus until and when the spirit moves me!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Walking the last miles

Having enjoyed the luxury of hot showers, soft towels, a proper hair dryer and a sauna the team joined our support team for dinner at the Saint Francis Yacht Club. Outside the wind was blowing a gale, and the bay waters were churning in an angry dance. Inside, the company was warm and calm, and the food a vast improvement over the camp fare we had left behind. Once we headed back to camp the wind was still blowing wildly. The medical tent had been moved inside one of the old military buildings nearby. The other tents auxillary tents were disassembled, leaving just the walkers tents and the dining hall. The little pink tents, close to the ground, shook in the wind. We headed straight to our tents and opened hand warmers to stick at the bottom of our sleeping bags, set the alarm and prepared for a loud evening. Barbara joked that we had to reef the tent and throw out the anchor to get through the night. Miraculously (due to pure exhaustion) I fell immediately asleep, wakening only for a brief run to the port-a-potty around 2am.

Because the entire camp had to be broken down and put away by 8:00 am in order to make room for another event, people got us early. There was no need for an alarm as no one could easily sleep through the hustle and bustle. Allison and I were still hurting. I went to medical at 6am to have my blisters re-bandaged. I was not the only one. There was already a long line of people preparing for this last day of walking. I felt I was in better than average shape when I saw how many people had so many more blisters on their feet than my one huge one.

After I was properly new skinned and mole skinned, I walked back to get breakfast. Then we broke down our tent. It was a little bitter sweet as I knew this was the beginning of the end to this amazing adventure. Jill arrived after 7:30 and we were among the last to leave for our walk. Allison was walking with a noticeable limp. I had suggested she not be afraid to fast forward in the sweep van to lunch, but she gave me a look that said "not in this lifetime!" so I never brought up the idea again. My foot was very sore and I found my gait to be much slower than the previous days. As the day progressed I developed the same enormous blister on the other foot as well as two good sized ones under the calluses of my big toe. The day would definitely be a challenge, but like my daughter, there would be no way blisters would stop me!

Today's walk was through the streets of San Francisco.

We walked up through part of the Presidio until we came to the Cow Hollow neighborhood and headed up to Union Street. Every now and again we would see someone who was thoughtful enough to mark our passing with pink decorations. You could see women looking out of tall buildings with smiles on their faces. I wondered how many of them were survivors, how many more would this disease touch. Despite the discomfort of my feet and the pained look on Allison's face we pressed on. This was the last day, the last 15 miles.... we were going to do this....

There are few cities in the world as charming as San Francisco. How lucky we were to be walking through its streets on a sunny day with such amazing people. I felt like my heart was getting bigger with each step and worried all the emotion that was building up would simply burst through at any moment.

We moved on to Pacific Heights and walked down Washington Street (where Dana lived as a child). We came very close to the apartment I first lived in when I married Glenn on Clay Street. Turning down one street, on the steps of a Queen Anne Victorian, was this sweet couple with their lab. Look at the smiles on their faces...our grins were twice as big.

We had walked down Sacramento Street toward the old Children's Hospital (where both Allison and Katie were born). Then we made a turn on Commonwealth where I saw my most favorite spectators of all, with their little "lemon-aide like" stand, only this was a boo boo stand. They had bandages, antiseptic etc...waiting along with animal cookies. I thought, "good for these little girl's parents," because they were teaching them how important is is to lend a hand in support of others.

I regret a couple of things on this walk. I didn't take enough photos of the people who volunteered and through their giving spirit lifted mine. This was safety monitor Bill. Bill would welcome you to his safety post like this, "Welcome to my crosswalk." Then later in the day you would see him and he would say "Welcome to my parking lot." He always had a warm calm smile under that pink cowboy hat. I loved Bill.

We weaved our way through some more streets in the Jordan Park neighborhood until we came to Oak and Stanyan. This was one of our pit stops. The Oakland Firefighters had brought an old rig out from which they blasted music and handed out candy (sugar daddies). They had a sign the said "random acts of kindness."

We sat down and snacked and rested, maybe a little longer than we might have on day one. The feet were...not happy, but I was.

Seeing Jill eating Lays Potato chips was quite a sight. She reads every label, watched "Food Inc" and is a cautious eater.... I think the walk changed that, at least on this day.

Allison with her salty Kettle Chips , and Patti with her peanuts.

We started walking through the park, and in front of the DeYoung Museum, right before the assigned Cheer station at the Tea Garden was Wren! She had been waiting since 8am! What a great friend. I have known Wren casually in the past, but I made a note to self...this is a GOOD one I need to spend more time with her. She had her supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese, apples and more... THANK YOU Wren.

The team... still together on Day 3!

Shortly after leaving the museum, and walking by the Japanese Tea Garden, a slightly older woman yelled out to me "hey what is this walk about?" I yelled back it's a walk to find a cure for Breast Cancer. She yelled again " Are they feeding you?" I said yes. She asked "Are they feeding you yogurt?" I said they were in the morning to which she angrily said "Milk causes cancer, I find it odd they would be feeding you something that causes cancer." In disbelief I told her "Well I believe estrogen caused mine," but what I wanted to say.... too late was...."I have heard that stress does as well. I would calm down if I were you." I turned to Allison and hissed "The nerve!"

Time to escape reality, let's head to the Haight. Here we ran into our guys. Dana jumped into our group and walked a few blocks with us along with Curtiss and Chris. Glenn stayed behind with John who, as you have read had a broken ankle. It was good to catch them up on where we had been so far.

We wandered again through the park and had lunch on a grassy corner. Lunch consisted of a decent whole wheat and turkey and cheese sandwich...or maybe we were just hungry!

From there we walked toward Alamo Square. This park is known for the painted ladies that surround it (no not that kind...Victorians darling!) Our guys were getting into the spirit! I had given Glenn Boas to bring before I left for the walk, as we came across them, there they were, boas and all. The women who passed loved it, as they gave out their beads, while wearing their boas. We were nearing the home stretch so we picked up our feathery pink boas for the final leg.
The route took us through the western addition and we passed a group of people who just emerged from a church service. They looked at us like we were from Mars. Walking on down toward city hall, we passed the Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera house until we were at the next pit stop. On an area near city hall where there have been demonstrations, and rested on a lawn on which I have seen many people from the other side of life sleeping and smoking and rambling in days past. This time it was just walkers and their support people.
The group, regrouped here and stretched in an effort to find that last little umfph we would need to get to Fort Mason.

We walked up Van ness and headed down Sutter Street toward the financial district. I am sure were were on a couple of other streets as well, We were close to the Tenderloin on one, where one fellow, looking slightly impaired, called out from around the corner, "What's this walk about?" I said it's a walk to end Breast Cancer. He replied "I'm for that sister! Just know I am walking with you on that sister!" and he gave me an Allison a thumbs up. Further along, Starbucks gets a gold star for letting us use their restrooms. Here Allison's face looks like her foot feels.

I don't know why Jill looks so frightened holding on to that Boa...

We passed Grant and Sutter and the gates to China Town. I was glad not to try and navigate through the tourists and residents on those densely packed streets. We walked through the shaded streets of the financial district. I wished I had a long sleeved shirt or jacket. It was biting cold in that shade. Maybe it helped numb my feet, because I pressed on until we hit the sunny side of the street in Little Italy (North Beach). Our last pit stop was at Washington Square in North Beach. The next stop would be the holding area. The end of the walk, where we would wait for closing ceremonies.

Washington Square

Poor Muffin.....

The team is tired. Jill's so tired you can't even see her anymore...
Patti and Barbara look ready to go!

So we picked it up and headed on down the street. We passed numerous bars where there were walkers grabbing a drink. Since Allison and I had left earlier than the rest (we were walking so slow, we felt we needed a head start). Patti, Jill and Barbara tried to stop to sneak in a cocktail too. Apparently no one would wait on them. Perhaps the bartender knew a drink after 60 miles is not a wonderful idea...from a liability standpoint!
Girls at the bar
When we made the turn at Bay and headed west, my heart began to race. I could feel tears welling up, and I grabbed Allison's hand. "This is it" I said. Six months of training. We did it.

The holding area was in a small park, when we walked up the steps to enter the ground we found the smiling faces of walkers and volunteers standing like an honor guard, applauding as we walked through. The tears came, my heart finally burst with the love and pride and humility of being around such committed and positive people. Cameras and video came out as Allison and I limped between the corridor of people. It must have been quite a sight to see this mid century woman in her hat of buttons, with a tear streaked face, arm in arm, with a young glistening eyed woman both hobbling to the finish.

After making our way through what felt like 1/2 mile of supporters, we were given our tee-shirts, mine a pink survivor shirt and Allison's a white walker shirt. A pink rose was handed to us along with a sticker that said 0-60 in 3 days. We collapsed on the grass and waited for the rest of our team to arrive.
The last day I wore a hat with bottons in honor of other Cancer Warriors. It was a heavy hat and the buttons weighted down the brim do much that I couldn't really see very well. But here at the finish line, I took the hat off, because in this had been an honor for me, a honor to walk in it when these people could not.

Such a deep feeling of satisfaction.
And then there were 5. The excitement was so great, I couldn't even feel my feet.



The last walker arrived and then it was time to head to the closing ceremonies.
Last Walker... in flip flops.....

They told us there would be two groups. One for walkers and one for suriviovr. They said we needed to pick which one. I couldn't imagine not walking in with our team, but at the same time I remembered the look on the faces of people today when they read the back of my shirt "14 year Survivor" and the conversations that brought up on the streets with other survivors and walkers. It was equally as important for people who had gone so far, to see that people do survive this disease. And there was a need for me to be with the other people who understood what fighting cancer feels like... Patti said "We have to go in together as a team"...and she was right.
So together we walked arm in arm on our way to the closing ceremony. We had come so far together, this was the last walk we would take in the 2009 3-day.

Along the route we saw Jill's husband Randy standing at the Safeway parking lot, looking mighty proud...
The sight of all those walkers, and crew was breath taking, as the line snaked blocks to the closing. I was walking to the beating of my heart. The tears were filling my eyes. I held my team mates close, as I walked I remembered how far we all had come.

While we were making our way our good friends, husbands and others were waiting for us to arrive. Bill Bralye our college friend and husband of our sorority sister MB was taking photos. He has a gift. He can tell a story with his camera others wish they could begin to capture. He sees things other overlook. Many of the following photos are his.
Photo by BB
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MB, Photo by BB

Chuck, Stephanie, Glenn, MB and Chris, Photo by BB

Walkers arrive

Photo by BB

Here they come

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Team: Are We There Yet? is THERE!

From under that heavy brim, I looked out to the crowd looking for my husband and daughter Katie (down from Seattle) and friends. We were walking toward the center of hundreds of applauding people. The feeling was overwhelming.

Photo by BB

Joy! I find them!

Photo by BB
Patti was smart to wear sunglasses... it hides those tears. But I knew they were there. My daughter Katie said when she looked at Patti's husband John's eyes when she walked into the ceremony, they were filled with tears too. Happy, proud tears for his Breast Cancer survivor.

This feeling I have for these four amazing women is something I just can't describe

Photo by BB

Patti is happy.

Photo by BB

As the teams arrive they hurry to find a spot on the railing to watch the ceremony.

Photo by BB

Photo by BB


Patti turned to me and said, "Let's join the survivors." I nodded and we walked over to where they would enter. The man who was in charge of keeping order, told us we could join them once they walked in. They also were walking in lines of five. When they came up to us a group of three said "Join us!" What a perfect solution. We walked in the crowd and stood in the inner ring with the other women and men who had battled this beast. It's a kinship that needs no words.

Patti and I are in the lower right corner.

Photo by BB

Cathy is there....

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The ceremony had begun and the speaker asked the crowd to welcome the survivors.

"They are a symbol of hope. Just to fight the battle of breast cancer, most
people would say, this is enough. But these are not most people.These are the
walkers and crew who said it is not enough to have survived, I must
save the lives of thousands to come....Please welcome home your breast cancer survivors."
Patti's eyes saw one of the crew raise a shoe in salute, then another, then another. We turned around and saw all the walkers saluting us, holding their one shoe high into the cool afternoon air. The moment took my breath away.

Photo BB

Photo by BB

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Then 8 suriviors were brought to the stage each representing a different quality that helped them survive. Throughout the walk flags were a symbol of the fight against Breast Cancer. The final flag was raised "A World Without Breast Cancer" and the speakers words rigning in my ears..."We will never give up, we will never give up, we will NEVER give up."

Photo by BB

Photo by BB

It was time to rejoin our regular lives. Join our family and friends and celebrate our accomplishment.

Bill and MB, Allison and Chris

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I was very moved to see how many people understood what this day meant to me in my personal journey to free myself from Cancer.

Photo by BB

Photo by BB

Our dear friends, Barbara and Mary-Elizabeth from Stockton were there with pink pashminas embrodered to remember the day. They say there will be a new Stockton team for next year. I hope we can join forces to be even mighter than we were this year.

We finished the evening with a grand celebration at the St Francis. A lavish buffet, in our regular clothes... Wishing I had my Eveready bunny slippers, I sipped my wine and relished in the glow still surrounding me from the most amazing adventure I have ever experienced.

So dear readers, you will excuse me if I take a break to process this all. I will return with at least one more post to try and express what it really means to go form 0-60 in 3 days.

PS - I have signed up for 2010..If you want to join me... let me know.