All the smiles, all those hugs, and the never ending parade of survivors in that sea of pink tee shirts.
Love. Celebration. Hope.
Gina Moore, who had sang so angelically at my sister’s funeral less than two months ago, was now on the race platform singing for the survivors. It was just too much for me to handle. With an endless hole in my heart that will never again be filled, I sobbed. I buried my face in my husbands chest and could not open my eyes again. Why was I here? Why on earth had I thought THIS would be a good idea?
In years past, my sister Karen and I had come to several Race for the Cure events together. At first to be a part of her employer’s team, and then later, after her breast cancer diagnosis, to support her. We became part of that pink crowd of hope and we had believed that she had beaten it. We celebrated the victory of survivorship and remission.
And then one day, the hope of pink disappeared and world turned black again when she learned that cancer had returned in an extremely aggressive and fatal form that could only be “managed,” and never cured. The rest of her short life would revolve around doctor appointments, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.
Cancer. Depression. Suffering. Death.
And now it was over. She was gone and here before me were all these women celebrating life and each other. It wasn’t fair. IT WASN’T FAIR! My heart was broken and my spirit was inconsolable. Why did these women get a miracle and she did not? In my sorrow, I felt taunted. Karen and I had both believed right up until the end that she would get a miracle healing, but none came and Karen was dead.
“I want to go home,” I said to my friend Laurie. She took a deep breath and looked into my eyes. “No,” she said firmly, “You are staying right here and we are walking this course.”
“I can’t do it!” I cried. “It’s just too hard. I see Karen everywhere.”
“Yes, I’m sure you do,” she said softly. “And that is why we are here. We’re going to honor her today and we’re going to create a brand new memory for you for Race for the Cure. Today is the beginning of the next chapter. I know that it is hard. But you are not alone. We are here today for you, and we are walking every step of this by your side. Do you hear me? You are not alone! From this day forward, we honor Karen’s memory and we support the ones still in the fight.”
And so began the longest 3.2 miles of my life. We walked it, and despite my constant whining and begging to turn back or take short cuts, we walked it all. Laurie, Susie, Emma, Johnny, Dave, Marianne, and Brittany – my team of love who were there solely to hold my hand and see me through this hard and terrible day. Every single one of them wearing the, “Fight like a Girl,” tee shirt that I had designed especially for Karen the year before. Every single one of them probably secretly wondering if I was going to make it or not.
At the finish line we were all soaked to the skin from the constant rain and freezing. My feet and hands were as numb as my emotions.
“What do you want to do now?” Someone asked. I thought for a moment and smiled, “We’re going to Hacienda for margaritas!” Despite the fact that it was 10:30 in the morning and half of our little party doesn’t drink, that is exactly what we did. Karen loved Hacienda margarita’s and I know for sure she would have thought that was a mighty fine idea after cry-walking for 3 miles in the rain. So we toasted Karen with our assorted beverages and I finished my horrible morning with a few laughs and my very best friends.
Flash forward to today. It’s been one year. Race for the Cure is only a few hours away. As my friend Laurie so beautifully pointed out to me last year, that moment WAS the beginning of a new chapter for me. A chapter I could not have even begun to imagine or write. A chapter that has put me back into the chemo room every single day with other cancer warriors as a Chemo Buddy – a program that my sister Karen and I wrote together.
I have not reflected on that day at Race for the Cure until now and it is obvious to me (now!) just how magical it was. A long hard journey surrounded by friends who would hold me up no matter how hopeless or discouraged I felt. Friends willing to love me through the hard spots until I could manage again on my own.
Isn’t that EXACTLY what Race for the Cure symbolizes to all those survivors? Families and friends coming together to say once again to the warriors in pink, “You are not alone in this. We are here for you and we will walk every step of this journey with you.”
And I have realized that my perception of Race for the Cure as a celebration was because Karen and I were always there to celebrate. But that isn’t the whole picture. There will also be scared women there who have just been diagnosed, women who are in remission, women who have just learned that the cancer has returned, women who are facing death, and loved ones who – like me – are still mourning a senseless death from breast cancer.
It is a really important day for all of them to come together and know that they are not alone. To meet their co-warriors and to see just how many people out there care and are doing what they can to be a part of a cure.
This year, I will return to Race for the Cure. But instead of the cry-walk, I will be at the first booth on First and Main Street representing Chemo Buddies. I can’t wait to see the heroes, hear the stories and hear Miss Gina sing again.
If you go, please come by and say hello. And if you happen to need a kleenex – for happy tears or sad tears – ask me, because I’m bringing them in bulk 🙂