Thursday, January 04, 2007

Finally...the Breast Cancer 3-Day

It's been over 2 months since I walked my 60 miles for the Breast Cancer 3-day. I didn't write about it immediately after it happened- probably because I was exhausted and I was still processing it. Even now, when the sorority rush, cry and hug, estrogen filled camp feeling is gone, I still count it among the things that I am most proud of doing.

I was only about 6 weeks out of treatment, and while I had to take painkillers to get me through, I did it. I still had a fair amount of joint pain left over from Taxol (my chemo) and some fatigue, but nothing a little vicoden couldn't cure. It was life affirming and cathartic. It was hard and sad. It was fun and ridiculous. I saw more boob jokes than I'd ever thought I'd witness.

The first morning of the walk. We look so rested.

Rather than bore you with an hour by hour playback, I thought I'd share a couple of key moments with you.

First of all, I have to say- I wish they didn't talk about cancer so much. Every time they gave some inspirational blah blah blah or gave some statistic, I cried. Couldn't we just talk about the bras hanging from people's tents or the old lady wearing plastic boobs on her head? I was reminded this was a walk FOR cancer, and that cancer-chat would be obvious. I guess in some ways I wasn't ready. I had done so much talking on the phone about cancer, writing about cancer... I did very little talking about cancer in real life. To real people. Who could look into your eyes and get it.

After Day 2. Not as bad as we feared.

But we still had one more day.

At camp boobs, there was a tent dedicated solely to the remembrance of those who had died. I was also not quite prepared for this. See, I don't think until the moment I walked inside that I actually considered I might die from this. Did I think it was crappy? Sure. Was I scared of recurrence? Heck yeah. But it never truly occurred to me I might die. Until I entered this tent. There were pictures of women who had lost the battle- from walks they had done or their wedding or with their little kids. There was a tent you could sign and there were all these messages. After a few minutes, I couldn't breathe. It was like everything I had never thought of hit me all at once. I started to sob. Sob in a way I had not done in a awhile. Standing outside of that tent, crying, two of my closest friends who were walking with me, held me. After a few minutes, I pulled myself together and vowed I would go back in that tent later in the weekend to prove to myself I could do it.

I never went back.

One of the many wonderful signs and cheers
that lined our route.

Stretching.... Ow!

At one of the cheering stations

whre Alan came to clap and yell.

I can't say for certain how my friends processed the weekend, but I'm sure there was a part that was jarring to them. I had the unusual process of going through chemo and radiation rarely seeing a close friend. I had a wonderful dinner the night before I had surgery, but because of where I lived and where I moved, very few people, aside from my husband and my parents, saw me without hair or saw me "sick". The two people who walked with me- my friends Chris and Hope... neither had seen me since I had started chemo. And while I had started to grow a little peach fuzz, I was still pretty damn bald. And 30 pounds heavier. And while I was still pretty damn cute and funny, there were moments where I struggled. Or I almost passed out. I think it scared them to see it actually happening. Like the stuff I had talked about for 6 months was all of the sudden very real. As real as the t-shits we wore covered in pictures of women who had breast cancer under 40.

Finally, a part of the walk that I will never forget was the closing ceremonies. Alan greeted us with a bottle of champagne as we finished. Leave it to Alan to somehow bring liquor to the party. We got our t-shirts... Hope and Chris got blue, I got pink- survivors wore a different color. There were a little over 200 survivors out of about 2000 walkers.

Toasting to our success... Thanks Alan!

People at closing ceremonies

We marched into the ceremonies separated. The crew, the staff, the blue shirts.... and finally all survivors in our pink shirts. I wasn't with the people I had come with, instead I walked hand in hand with a new family I had made that weekend. I was one of the newest out of treatment and one of the youngest... I think there was only one girl younger than me. So I was kind of special even in a group that was already so full of stories. As we walked into the huge park in downtown Atlanta, I cried. Like a freaking baby. Alan said he didn't even take pictures of that part because I didn't "cry pretty." As we walked in, a saw a couple of the Ya-Yas who had come out to support me. One stopped me, a "Courtney" sign in her hand. She was crying as well. She hugged me for as long as the marching allowed.

The most moving part of it all had to be the shoes. As we ended our march in, we walked into the middle of all the walkers. No one said a word. Suddenly, one person held up her shoe. Then another, then one more. Until 2000 people were quiet and holding up the shoes they used to walk those 60 miles in our honor. They did it for us, those shoes said. Chris and Hope told me they had no idea what was going on at first, but they saw a bunch of people take off their shoes and hold them up, so they did too. Then they got it. I suppose it's done at every 3-Day every year, but I'm not sure if I will ever forget that overwhelming show of support- the visual sign of a group of people standing beside you.

When I caught up with Hope and Chris after the closing ceremonies, they both said to me, "Oh, God. No one prepared us for the shoes." "Once, the shoes happened, it was over. Oh, the crying." I'm glad it moved them as well.

"The shoes"

So here I am, 2 months later, still crying when I think of these moments. There were fun times, like the earliest frost on Atlanta's record... yes, I moved to the South and we camped out when it was 30 degrees. Oh, wait, that wasn't so fun. There were funny t-shirts and conversations and costumes. I met new people, shared stories, gossiped. Most importantly, I realized that I had endured something pretty major and come out the other end. The walk AND cancer itself. And it's something to be damned proud of.

I only wish they wouldn't talk about cancer so much.

I raised almost $8000 for breast cancer that weekend. The three of us raised almost $13000.

Alan and I have already signed up for next year. This time, he's walking.


Anonymous said...

Seven years ago, I completed the walk from Ann Arbor to Detroit a week after one of my best friend's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The whole experience had a profound impact on me. Although they did not do the shoe thing there, a woman did hold up her inflatable pink Power Ranger that added levity to the intense emotions of the closing ceremony.

So glad that you have maintained your wit throughout this whole thing. For what it's worth, you always bring a smile to my face.

Chris said...

The shoes....
Court, we were so proud of you, of all of the pink shirted survivors, and there was no better way to show it. I applaud the genius who came up with it, because I can't think of a better, more beautiful collective gesture. We did walk for you, and we'll do it again and again.

Love you,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 3-Day story, you've achieved so much. It's moving just reading it, and being reminded how much people care. I did the Playtex Moonwalk (a mere 26 miles) twice before I got cancer myself (forward planning?). It's a great way to actually 'do' something with the natural human compassion we all share.
Tina x

Becky said...

I found your blog through a goggle search (as I am preparing for my first 3 day this year) and I just wanted to tell you how genuine and moving I found your post.