I’ve been thinking a lot about the Race for the Cure. My surgery was May 13th, the race is June 13th. In discussing my surgery with my doctors it was one of my first questions, “Will I be able to walk in Race for a Cure?” They said I probably could, but that it would depend on my recovery. And even though I can tell that this recovery is going to take longer than I want it to, it is no longer a question for me. I WILL walk that 5K with thousands of other cancer fighters, survivors, and supporters. I WILL.
Joel and I have been participating, or donating to (when we were out of town) The Race for a Cure since we started dating. It has been a cause close to Joel’s heart because of losing his mom to breast cancer. The first year I participated, I ran with a co-worker’s name on my back. She was diagnosed with breast cancer while her husband was dying from an advanced stage cancer. Her husband passed away during her treatment phase. She would drive herself to her radiation appointments, and would sometimes go rollerskating afterwards. I was always in awe of her strength. And now knowing what it is to go through this battle — that awe has transformed to admiration.
I always had someone sitting next to me during all of my appointments. Someone was always holding my hand, or taking notes while the doctors spoke. I was never alone. During one of my first oncologist appointments (when I was feeling quite sorry for myself) the nurse practitioner said, “you are going to be okay. It looks like you have lots of support in this (she glanced at Joel), there are so many women who come in here and have no one.”
Every year at the race I would stare at women wearing pink shirts that looked my age. Some would be pushing strollers, or holding hands with their kids. I would think to myself, “I would NEVER be able to handle having cancer. How are they doing that?” My heart would hurt for them.
I remember clearly the lump in my throat as I would read the back of people’s shirts. On paper badges they write the names of those who are fighting the battle, or of those who have died fighting. Children with their mom’s picture on their back, husbands who have lost their wives, names of so many women who mean the whole world to their family and friends.
I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t often think, “this won’t happen to me. I mean, I have never smoked, and I eat organic fruits and vegetables, and I exercise, and I think positive thoughts. I won’t get cancer. Not me.” Yep. I said those things to myself as I ran past those “other” women in pink. Making myself feel safer with unfair assumptions, “they probably didn’t take care of themselves, or maybe they have a family history, or maybe they live too close to a chemical plant.”
And then my friend Lisa was diagnosed. And my theories were destroyed. She took good care of herself, she was a positive person, she did wonderful things for the people around her all the time, she was a mom with no family history, and she didn’t live near a chemical plant. Then I comforted myself by thinking, “well, two people in a small circle can’t be diagnosed too close together. . . it doesn’t work that way.”
It always seems like it won’t happen to you . . . until it does.
This year I will be wearing the pink survivor shirt. You are a survivor from the minute you are diagnosed (at least that’s what they tell you in the cancer world). This year I am sure other women will look at me with my SUPER short hair (that’s growing back mostly GRAY) pushing a stroller with my two young boys, and they will think to themselves, “I would NEVER be able to handle that.” Or perhaps they will say to themselves, “I bet she smoked when she was in college, maybe she only drinks high fructose corn syrup by the gallon, and her dinners are Cheetos and hotdogs.” People think these things to make them feel safe . . . I sure did.
But cancer is a growing reality for people of all ages and walks of life. We have friends whose baby was diagnosed with leukemia when he was three months old. And other friends whose beautiful daughter has battled leukemia twice in her childhood. No one is immune to cancer. And that sucks. But it is true. No one is immune to cancer.
And here is another fun fact: no one is immune to death. Cancer forced me to look at my mortality. It forced me to stare at it, and study it, and to deal with it. We are all going to die.
There is so much imagery about the “fight” of cancer. She is battling cancer. She is fighting cancer. She is at war with cancer. Part of me embraces this imagery. Part of my journey has felt like a fight, like a battle, like a war.
But part of journey has been more about kneeling down, reaching out, and closing my eyes. Part of it has been about letting go, and surrendering, and bowing down.
Sometimes I was slaying cancer cells with a sword. And sometimes I was just bowing my head to them.
Sometimes I would recognize the reality that I could still be killed in a car crash at any given time. That one sneeze, or swerve from a driver in the other lane could kill me faster than cancer.
We are all dying. But we are all living too. Until we are gone — we are here.
I have learned that bad, devastating things can and will happen. But that even in the midst of your heartache there is beauty, and grace, and wisdom. Dark cannot exist without light.
My quest: more faith, less fear.
This is what I will be thinking about as I slowly walk that 5K on June 13th with thousands of other women and men who have been touched by breast cancer. I have always found inspiration and awe during this walk — and this year won’t be any different. I’ll be in pink. I’ll have super short GRAY hair 😦 But I be there. Walking. Thinking. Reflecting. And probably crying.
If you haven’t signed up to walk with us & still want to– please do it soon! Time is running out. Just click the link below.
And if you can’t attend, please click here & check out the beautiful artwork of my lovely friend. You can buy a print for someone you know who might need this reminder and ALL proceeds will support our team. (Click this link even if you can attend — because this is awesome!)