I did it.
Not only did I do the walk on September 6 &7, 2008, along with 4700 other women, I also raised approximately $4500 for breast cancer research. My reasons for putting this on my 101 in 1001 Day list are really simple. Earlier this year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s not the first. My great-grandmother died from it, my grandmother also had it (and survived after a masectomy), and now my mom… who is now a survivor because of early detection (don’t skip those mammograms!) and radiation treatments (thank God, no chemo needed). We’re hoping this is where the family history stops (okay, I’m hoping this is where the family history stops. I don’t want to get cancer. But who does?).
I have never participated in anything like this before either, and I’ve reached a point in my life (and in my career) where I’ve started to say, What can I do to help others? I feel a little sheepish that I haven’t always had this question at the forefront of my mind. But I know I’m not alone as being someone who has been focused for many years on launching a successful career, putting a roof over my head, and otherwise getting my sh*t together. And I have volunteered here and there, in drips and drabs, and donated money to other people’s causes.
But I’ve never been one to reach out to others and say, “hey, can you donate to my cause?” Because I just don’t like asking for help. And deep down, I fear rejection and people saying, “Yeah… sorry, can’t.” It’s the same fear I have about throwing a party… what if nobody wants to come? But I still throw parties and people always show up.
So I got over my anxiety about asking for a “hand out” because I realized I’m not asking for a hand out for me. I’m saying “I’m doing this walk for cancer, please give whatever you can spare for this walk… for cancer.” And so many generous souls stepped up, many of whom told me, “I can’t walk for X reason, but my best friend/aunt/mother/sister/daughter/neighbor was diagnosed/died/beat cancer this year/last year/X years ago… so THANK YOU for doing this walk and here’s XX dollars.”
It’s a big world we live in, yet it’s a very small space we all inhabit with so many of us connected by similar experiences.
I did the walk with my best friend, N, and we were “Team BFF.” Not the most original name, albeit. Not when there were teams like “Walkers For Knockers” (my fav) or “Thanks For The Mammeries” — you know, creative spins on the whole breast theme. But all in all, “Team Breast Friends Forever” rocked the walk.
We had a good pace going the first day. Don’t get me started on the chaos and mayhem that coloured the first pit stop. Let me just say that Filene’s Basement sales days are probably more civilized than hundreds of coffee-deprived women who have only just started a two day trek vying for cut-up bagels, Sun Chips, and packs of raisins. It was a bloody mosh pit.
The atmosphere mellowed out as we logged more kilometres. People found their pace and the rest of the pit stops were much more organized and therefore, orderly.
After all the pit stops and Sun Chips, I didn’t really have an appetite for lunch. And, I was kind of hurting from not getting much sleep the night before. Note to self: next year, get a full eight hours (instead of scraping by with three!) the night before the big walk.
The first day really was the hardest. We thought we were *only* walking 30 kilometres, but no, we walked 34 km from the CNE all the way up to base camp at Downsview Park. We took a circuitous route to get there, too, and it was an amazing opportunity to see some neighborhoods in my city that I’ve never explored before. From a real estate point of view, I was quite taken with one enclave hidden in the city, Old Weston Village. It looked like it was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and exemplified the Canadian Ideal (or American culture ideal)… it was the kind of neighborhood you’d see on a TV show like Mad Men, with perfect homes and perfect lawns, and young families where all the neighbors get along (and we saw that — all the neighbors hanging out together, partying on their decorated front lawns together as they supported the walkers with beverages, etc.).
We were so bowled over by the number of people who turned out along the route to cheer us on. I regret not taking more photos of all the well-wishers who plied us with candies, fruit, chocolate, power bars, kool-aid, lemonade, water, and even beer in their efforts to boost our energy. Those people were awesome!
Some of them went all out to decorate their homes, too. It opens one’s eyes to how many people’s lives have been touched by cancer and the fighting spirit that lives within us all.
Many of the people cheering us along the route had either done the walk in previous years, or were cancer survivors. I choked up when we past one woman around my mom’s age who held up a bristol board poster that said, “I survived because you walked.” In fact, I’m getting weepy all over again thinking about it.
The volunteer crew was amazing. I made a game for myself out of snapping photos of the motorcycles some of the traffic crew used to go from pit stop to pit stop. Here are my two favs:
By the end of the first day, I thought I was going to puke and then die. Note to self: Again! Do NOT ever walk thirty-four kilometres on four hours of sleep. Never, ever again.
When the going was tough during the last four kilometres, N and I reminded ourselves that thousands of people have had to walk for days on end — be it during the Holocaust, or fleeing war-torn countries, and none of them had pit stops with food and water, or Nike technology to cushion the soles of their feet. Thinking about that put every blister into perspective, beyond thinking about all the people who have cancer right now and would LOVE to be healthy enough to walk one kilometre.
The organizers had everything set up at base camp. Food, beverages, a sea of blue tents… but the main attraction was the Massage Tent.
I waited almost two hours for a twenty minute massage. It was worth it. My back was in spasms… not entirely because of the walk but kind of… long story. I didn’t injure myself on the walk, but I have some back issues and walking that kind of distance emphasized it.
N and I opted to sleep in our own beds instead of camping out, so we missed the floor show and big dinner and all of that jazz. I didn’t feel like I was missing out though, since I was more than happy to have a long, hot bath at home and sleep a full ten hours in my own bed before getting up at the crack of dawn to drive to base camp and start the 26 km trek back to the CNE.
In the pouring rain.
Yep. It rained all through the second day. But no matter! Team Breast Friends Forever was on FIRE! We started late, around 8 am, and were among the last wave of women to leave base camp.
Well-rested with coffee and breakfast in our tummies, we discovered a lightness in our step. Somehow we just kept cruising, passing other walkers, keeping in mind that “it’s not a race.” But the truth is, N and I are a little on the competitive side and we liked passing people… mostly because we really enjoy walking, we’re both tall and therefore have a long stride, and we HATE having to slow down because someone is taking up the sidewalk at a stroll.
There were lots of well-wishers along the route, but nearly the numbers we saw on Day One. One cute, old Italian man took advantage of the swaths of women cutting through his neighborhood and showed us his zucchini.
But hey, if I had a vegetable that was almost double my height, I’d show off too! I snapped a photo of him with one of the few men who participated in the walk.
The other thing that brightened the rainy weather were the VERY. HOT. Firemen who served us lunch.
I chatted one up (but I like to think he was chatting me up and I was just keeping up conversation…), but I never saw him again. Foolishly, I didn’t double back for a photo or make N take a picture of him and me together. Stupid, stupid, stupid!!
N and I were on such a roll with our walk and our pace, that we didn’t feel like stopping at every pit stop for a break, and in the end we passed most of the crowd to be one of the first three hundred women to finish the walk.
Again, it was NOT a race. But it WAS cool to think we were among the last to start at the beginning of the day and were among the first to finish.
We hugged and wrapped our arms around each other when we got to the end. It was an emotional moment for both of us – a long two days of walking, but most of all … WHY we were walking and reflecting on all the people whose lives have been affected by cancer. I confess. I teared up and started to cry a little as we walked into the building and down the red carpet to the finish line. Well-wishers and women who had already finished were flanked on both sides, hands outstretched to give us all high-fives.
It was a very, very moving moment.
We picked up our commemorative t-shirts and signed the giant banner with names of every participant on the walk. Then we joined the others, wearing our blue shirts, and high-fived every other women finishing her walk.
This walk was truly one of the best experiences of my life.