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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure ~ An Experience of a Lifetime

I have had to take a couple of days to reflect on this experience. It was an emotional roller coaster. From the moment we arrived at Nationals Stadium, one thing was clear ~ this is an important, life altering event. We, meaning my Team ~ Tara, Pam, honorary member Johanna, me, Holly, and Miona, were enveloped by people all there for one common purpose ~ to find a cure for breast cancer. There were breast cancer survivors, family members, friends, concerned people from all walks of life were there for one thing.

There was the ‘message’ board where people wrote who they were there for ~ loved ones that survived, were trying to survive, or those taken by this disease. The opening ceremony was moving.
Banners were carried conveying all things that people deserved to have ~ hopes, dreams, beliefs…. Survivors took the stage bonded with hands held high displaying stamina and promoting hope. The master of ceremony at one point asked the crowd members to shout out who they were there for. Many shouted out names. One stood out ~ a little girl shouted “For Mommy!” It was difficult for me to maintain composure but another thing was clear as day ~ if one felt moved to tears then cry ‘because if we cannot cry here together, where else can we?’ So I did, many times.
Then it was time to start the walk. As we made our way through the bottleneck, high fives were everywhere from supportive strangers encouraging and thanking the walkers.

And we walked and walked and walked… in the rain. We walked all over DC. We walked through gorgeous neighbors where we admired the architecture. We took pictures. We walked by many Starbucks and took refuge in a few to grab something warm or dry off even for a few minutes. The Komen folks are organized. There were planned breaks every couple of miles or so with snacks, hydration, and medical attention if needed. All of those planned breaks were outside, in the rain.
Lunch was outside, in the rain. We laughed as how our lunch bags were disintegrating and our sandwiches were soggy. There we took refuge in a port-o-potty. Yes, a port-o-potty. Sound strange? Well yes but it was a bit of warmth and bit of dryness. Then we trekked on. It’s funny how you get to know people in a different way when walking and talking. Discussions ran deep. All along we never lost site of why we were there ~ to find a cure. We met so many people affected by this disease. Marshall stands out. He was a member of the crew. He is VERY involved with the Komen Organization. He was everywhere. Marshall lost three sisters to breast cancer ~ THREE.
There were women of all ages and the most masculine men wearing pink tutus all along the way. That was the crew outfit. There were crowds cheering wearing customs of pink and balloon breasts. There was a little girl with a cowboy hat doing the hula hoop. She kept popping up at different places on the walk. Just supporting the whole thing?? I don’t want to imagine why… her mom, her sister……???
We all made it. We were drenched to the bone. We could all squeeze water from of gym gear designed to dry quickly… under normal circumstances. We reached our final destination for the day and climbed onto the warm, dry bus with comfortable cushions seats. I think I feel asleep for a few minutes. We pulled into camp.

Camp was a series of stations ~ port-o-potties, shower trucks, the ‘mall’, the food tent, the medical tent, and a sea of luggage to claim and boxes of hot pick tents. We gathered our water logged luggage, was given a tent, and a spot to call home ~ temporarily. That was interesting ~ setting up tent in the rain, trying to keep the inside as dry as possible to place the gear so we could go eat a good meal. The food was good. I ate more than usual but then I probably used more calories that day then I had in a long time. How could you not shower first you ask?? The Komen folks know their stuff. They drilled into us eat first, shower second. Why? Didn’t want anyone to pass out in the hot shower. After we made the commitment to stay in camp (versus go home and sleep or to a hotel), we took our showers and started to peruse the mall. We could shop, get a foot and back massage via a chair, or just hang out. I can tell you that after a full day of rain, mud was a hurdle to overcome just like the distance we walked that day. Next came sleep.
I didn’t sleep well. Luckily the rain had stopped. Still, too many sounds, too hot, too cold…. I didn’t sleep. At 5:16 AM I decided to get up and get ready for the next day of walking.
This was a different day on many levels. The rain had stopped and the predicted rain wasn’t going to happen ~ YAY! The path that day took us up and down long hills and angled driveways. My feet were really beginning to hurt particularly my left foot. Still we trekked on. There were signs for me when I should have raised and crossed my arms above my head ~ the signal that you needed a ride or help ~ but I didn’t. I wanted to continue. It mattered so much.
We walked down a particularly long angled hill. I made it down and thought I can do anything if I can do that. We walked a little further to lunch. Another hill to walk down. By now my foot was aching. Another small steep hill to get down. Pain. Sharp pain. I knew this feeling. I had had it before. I told myself ‘I’ll just get my lunch, sit down, rest as long as I can and get up and walk the remaining seven miles for the day. Only seven miles, surely I can do that.’ I sat down with my Team on the ground. Pain. I took out my sunglasses and out them on. It was out of place. It wasn’t sunny. No one else had sunglasses on. My teammate even joked about it and snapped a picture “Hey look at Tom Cruise Top Gun.” I laughed. It was funny. My sunglasses were to hide my tears and probably my shame.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk anymore. I had touched the top of my foot and bit my lips. A stress fracture. I was quiet throughout lunch. It was the most surreal experience I have ever had ~ listening to the conversation, looking around, trying to not let on. Why? I am on a Team. A Team all tired but full of drive and anticipation to get to the finish line that day. It was the longest walk of the three days and I was not going to derail them. I noticed one of my folks looking behind me so I turned to see what they were looking at. They were looking at an amputee trying to get up with his fiancee helping him. How awesome is he?!! I felt small.
At the end of lunch, I smiled and told me Team I needed to go back to camp. That if I walked the rest of today, I wouldn’t be able to walk tomorrow. I already knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk tomorrow. I cheered them on. Said good-bye and walked slowly to the bus as they continued their journey.
Back at camp I sat for a long while thinking about things ~ looking all around me and seeing the Remembrance Tent off in the distance ~ all the pain and hope that brings people together for a common goal. I wanted to be part of that. To walk the walk.
Then I thought about my daughter, my glorious daughter, and how I needed to stay healthy. I called my husband. “You need to come get me,” I said. Not one word of judgment, just “I’ll be there as soon as I can honey.” He was caring for not only our daughter but two other daughters of Team members as their husbands were off on the Cub Scout camping trip with their sons. Jim and I only have Lauren. Jim gave up the Club Golf Championship Tournament to care for all the girls overnight.
When Pam, out Team Captain, first asked me to do this, I said, “Absolutely!” Jim said, “What about your foot honey?” I said, “I can do it!” “Ok,” he said. You see, if you don’t already know, I have a bum foot. I, like millions of others, was born with flat feet. Not that big of a deal. When I was about 10, I had an accident where I basically ripped everything apart that holds the foot together. At that time, in the dark ages, they didn’t set or cast injuries like that. So it didn’t heal properly. Over the course of life, everything weakened and the bones are not where they are supposed to be making it predisposed to injury similar to degenerative bone disease. It sucks, no doubt, but nothing, NOTHING compared to the amputee. My Teammate, Holly, researched the couple. He ended up in the hospital on Saturday with an infection and she walked alone on Sunday carrying his prosthetic leg. Amazing! They met on the first day of the Komen Walk last year. They got engaged the first day of this Komen Walk. Spectacular!

Jim came and picked me up with all the girls in tow. We found their moms on the walk and tears of joy were had all around. That was the first time they knew I was going home. At least they had a little joy with seeing their daughters. When I got home, I lost it. I cried uncontrollably while Jim and Lauren held me and told me how proud they were.

I showered, braced my foot, and took medicine.

The next day I explained to all the girls just what happened as they were confused. I worked with the girls to make signs to hold up as their moms came close to the finish line. My husband had washed my Belmont Babes Team shirt so I could wear it to walk across the finish line with my Team. I did that with my Teammate Tara (who called in a friend to help her walk the last six miles), her son (who is on crutches), my daughter (who has a cast on her arm), and me with my big brace on the ankle and foot. We were a sight to see. The crowds cheered for us.
In the end, I didn’t walk the full 60 miles but my Team and I raised close to $14,000 for help find a cure. We experienced the camaraderie of a lifetime for a cause like no other. It was amazing. BFF ~ ‘Breast Friends Forever’ was the statement coined by Holly for her Teammates. Cleverly perfect.
Would I ever do the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure again ~ you betcha!!! ~ as a member of the crew. I already researched where to get a stunning pink tutu.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Newsletter Hot Off the Presses!

Here's the lastest news on Paula Grace Designs, Inc. at work and at home.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

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