My story is not a secret. I share when the opportunity is appropriate. I reach out to those newly diagnosed. And now I participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. For years I had been the one to say, “Let me write a check.” It never occurred to me to participate. Once I became I survivor I was invited to attend several such fundraisers and my immediate answer was, “Oh, no. I could never do something like that. But let me sponsor you. Here’s a check.”
Then in 2010, almost three years after my initial diagnosis, a law school friend and student leader died. She did not die from breast cancer but a secondary cancer caused by the radiation treatments she had received eleven years earlier. Another law school friend called and asked, “Why don’t we do a walk in memory of Jan?” Before my brain filter could kick in, I heard myself say “yes.” And thus my journey began.
This year was my second Avon Walk. I was in a better place both mentally and physically. I was mentally prepared because I knew what to expect. And I was not nervous about all the “what ifs” that tend to flood my mind when I attempt something new. Physically because I had been more consistent with my training so I was stronger as well as lighter than last year.
Each walk begins with an Opening Ceremony. I can’t really explain the emotional energy of Opening Ceremony; it is something you have to experience. About all I can say is that there are testimonials and tears and stretching. We start out slow because the crowd is thick, but we soon develop a pace and some space. One thing about the Walk is that you are never alone. Most walk with a partner or other teammates, but even if you find yourself solo (because your teammates have a much faster pace) there are others who will share their space and stories and song.
On Saturday I had the privilege of walking with a group of women who sang gospel songs from their church worship. God was right there with me, assuring me that I was exactly where I needed to be. These angels had walking sticks and ace bandages but nothing was keeping them down. Along the way, at the different rest stops they celebrated my walk, giving me energy and encouragement.
Sunday, at the end of the Walk, is Closing Ceremony. Here we celebrate everyone who participated in the Walk; walkers, crew, volunteers and survivors. My first Walk I did not want to participate in the “Survivors Walk.” I got my tee-shirt and would have been happy to just stand with my teammates. But I was encouraged by others and there was an expectation from my teammates. So I reluctantly participated.
I am a solo survivor because no one else on my team is a survivor. Others are surrounded by fellow survivors who are friends and teammates. There are lots of tears of joy as we hear more testimonials. And we learn where our fundraising money is going. This year I stood next to a young man wearing a survivor’s tee-shirt. I say young because he was in the under-45 age category. He was quiet and I wondered if he, too were a reluctant survivor. But he was there; wearing his survivor’s tee-shirt. All I could think was, “How brave.” And I wondered why I am reluctant.
The truth about the Walk is that on Sunday we are stiff and sore and complaining about our war wounds knowing that next year we will do it all again. Why? Because six months from now we won’t remember the achy muscles and blisters. All we will remember is the experience, the energy of the other walkers, the tears, and the laughter. And I want to be there. I want to be there yelling, “woo hoo!” not just to excite my teammates and motivate the other walkers but because I’m a survivor and I want everyone to know.