Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why I walk...

For those of you wondering what this mythical speech was... Here's my nearest recollection of it. I didn't write it in advance or anything - just had some notes. I'll try to piece it together for you. In order to experience the magic, you must imagine me, Ronald McDonald head and all, in track bottoms and a t-shirt. Probably a little sweaty and gross from twenty miles of walking. Perhaps a little tipsy from the celebratory drink at the bar on the end of that day's route. Talking to a group of 2000 or so walkers and volunteers. Trying to be eloquent. Trying to toe the line between funny and - my favorite word - inspirational. This is what came out.

My husband and I rang in 2006 with a kiss. We brought in the New Year with promises of a wonderful life together. We had recently bought our first house and would be moving in the new year. My husband was about to graduate and had a great job lined up. I was finally doing something I loved. We were planning to have a baby. In fact we were trying - very hard - for that baby already. My husband looked me in the eyes, gave me a kiss and told me, "To 2006 - the best year of our lives."

We had no idea that lump I felt a month before would change everything.

On Valentine's Day 2006, I was in the hospital getting tests and a biopsy. Because nothing says "I love you" like the clamp of a mammogram machine and core needles. Two days later, our world collapsed.

"You have breast cancer."

It was a month after my 29th birthday. And I have no family history.

In the midst of phone calls and doctors appointments and freaking out, a package arrived at our apartment. It was information for The Breast Cancer 3 day. My husband had requested it. Like any man, he was looking for a way to "fix it", to do "something." He signed us up for our first 3-day for October of 2006. It would be something to work toward, a reason to get my butt out of bed during chemo, a celebration of victory.

My journey continued. I had surgery. I harvested and froze eggs to protect that family we had planned for. I had chemo. Halfway through chemo I moved from Chicago to Atlanta. Nothing gets you out of moving heavy boxes like cancer. I underwent radiation treatments. I started hormone therapy. I'm currently in a trial that keeps me in menopause in the hopes of keeping the cancer away.

And in October of 06 I walked my first 3-day. I was bald and chubby, only a month after my treatment ended. I was tired. It was hard. People asked me, "How can you do it?"

My response... "How could I not?"

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I've met wonderful groups of people who show me each and every day what courage really means. I've made friends and found new sisters. And last Valentine's Day... instead of laying on a cold, hard hospital table, I jumped from a plane at 14,000 feet. Since breast cancer, I've posed nude for photos, swung on a trapeze, taken pole dance lessons, joined a survivors gospel choir... there is nothing too wild and too crazy. I am living proof that breast cancer can hit anyone, anywhere. I am proof that you can find a new way to live.

Because you have to.

So that's why I walk. And I will keep walking:

Until doctors stop saying, "You're too young for breast cancer."
Until women everywhere get access to the same care I was lucky enough to receive.
Until research doesn't just find a cure, but the cause of breast cancer.
Until no one, and I mean not a single person, faces cancer alone.

I walk for Ruby and Candy - beautiful strong women who lost this fight. Who taught me more about grace and dignity than I could ever imagine.

I walk for members of my support groups. For the women who take the time to share their stories and help those of us following them on this path.

I walk for survivors everywhere.

I walk for all the names on those signs on everyone's backs.

I walk for the names on those tents outside.

I walk for the names on the signs at the cheering stations.

And for the people who took the time to make them.

I walk for the woman who is sitting at home right now, waiting for that life changing phone call.

I walk for every person whose life has been changed by breast cancer.

For the families and friends. For my own nieces. And for hopefully one day my frozen babies that I have waiting for me.

And I walk for me. Because, dammit, I deserve a lifetime.

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