Monday, December 01, 2008

Walking 60 Miles Seattle Style for Breast Cancer

I'm finally going to write about my incredible experience this past fall (2008) walking for Susan Gorman's 60 Mile walk for Breast Cancer. Yes, 20 miles a day. I didn't make it the 60 miles and that was disappointing, but that also I learned wasn't the point.
It was a crazy venture started as a notion around the new year. I wanted to do something different this year that would get me moving as I have a hard time committing to exercise. Also, I wanted to do something about this thing called cancer that seems to surround my friends, touched my family, and is a devastating disease in our society today. Kelly had some of the same thoughts and called me for a meeting to join this walk. She signed up that night as the team leader of "our team". I couldn't make the meeting, but said to her I would train with her and see how it went.

My husband and I were hoping to get pregnant this year and so I thought walking wasn't an option, but I wanted to get walking and knew if someone else were walking that I would too. She and I began walking and met a couple of times with another team member Angie, who had officially signed up for the team too.

Somewhere in February, Kelly confessed a secret. She had just found out she was pregnant and due a couple of weeks before the Seattle walk. It would be a first baby for her and her hubby. At first she thought no problem, we'll just walk in another city like Phoenix, which many teams do go to other cities to walk. She had checked to see if they would let her walk the next year and they said no. She had already raised $800 of her $2200 obligation and was determined to go on. I said to her that I didn't think she would want to walk right after having the baby, but she was determined.

The next month I found out I was pregnant and I was so glad I hadn't signed up officially. I told Kelly and she seemed happy for us, but sad I wouldn't be walking with her. Angie began to suffer some health issues and we didn't see her for a while. I tried to recruit others for our team, but no one could walk this year. Kelly and I got up to around 10 miles early on and often did 5 when we got together to walk, but around April/May we were both feeling pretty lousy.
I miscarried in May and I retreated to myself for a little while not walking or talking or doing much of anything, but threw myself into the Christmas script I was to start writing to try to distract my sadness. I was happy for Kelly, but it was hard walking with a now visibly pregnant woman as this had been my third miscarriage in a row.

Kelly, had a rather hard injury from all she had been doing. Somewhere in May/June the ligament strain was too much and she had to stop the long walks. She finally admitted she wouldn't be able to walk anytime in the fall if she was to keep this baby now. This was hard for her as she is a very driven and committed person. She felt like she was being a wuss. I told her that was silly and promised to be her, raise the rest of the money, and walk in September in Seattle as planned. She was very happy I was going to take her spot. We got it officially changed over in late June and away we went.

The next two months were crazy doing training walks with my friends. A big thank you to Erica who did many of those walks with me and my husband Martin and son Sebastian for going on many of the others. They would at least start with me or go around Greenlake with me the first time. I really appreciated that support. I was fully writing this Christmas script and arranging actors to do a first reading in August and all my other time was pretty much spent fundraising and walking.

The support started rolling in and I was so humbled by the generosity of those who knew me well, but many who didn't know me well giving so generously! It kept me putting one foot in front of the other. Angie, fell to a really bad case of Merca and she was now out of being able to be recovered by September 12, which was the big first day of the walk. I had a reading of my Christmas script and went camping to Ashland, OR over the Labor Day weekend. I was so focused on auditions for my show that came the next week and then I realized it would be time to walk. Before I knew it, it was the night before the walk.

I couldn't sleep. I was team less, but well supported. I was $95 short of the money goal, but they would let me walk as I committed to paying it if it didn't come in. I thought to myself I could just not pay and not walk, but then I thought about all of my supporters I'd disappoint and Kelly who was counting on me.
Grumbling and somewhat dreading it, I got up at 4 a.m. even though my head had just hit the pillow a couple of hours before to get up and go to Bellevue, WA at the community college which was our starting point. I thought to myself how hard this was going to be as the furthest I'd walked in one day so far had only been about 13 miles. I knew how difficult that had been and I'd only done it a couple of times before this. The most I'd consistently done was 10 miles. It takes a lot of time to train for this and I knew I had not been disciplined enough that I'd be in for a rough time.
When I got to BCC I was stunned. There was a sea of thousands of people and the traffic jam was pretty bad. It took a couple of hours past what they had predicted as the 6 a.m. start time because there was so many people. You'd think it was a theatre convention with all the crazy costumes and hats people were wearing. I looked really normal compared to these extremely pink bunches of people before me.

Even though it was a crazy party atmosphere, I found myself tearing up and feeling very emotional seeing all these people at this one event. Later on the walk I found out there were about 12,000 people walking plus a couple of thousand volunteers. There was a lot of enthusiasm and triumph just getting started. Survivors were honored and what we were about to embark upon was talked about as a journey to honor those that couldn't be there or had survived and their spirits were walking with us. I cried a lot that first day. I think washing away years of pent up frustration that I hadn't done anything but watch many friends and my mother suffer with breast cancer. I also thought a lot about my brother that suffered with cancer and a sister that had cancer but survived and how hard it all is and why hasn't there been a cure?

We began to walk. I was silent at first, just watching everyone and listening to everyone talk. The support people in costumes were cheering us on. The cows in their cow car and costumes here were my favorites. They circled the group walking at regular intervals and played music, danced with us, and made sure everyone was safe. I was really impressed how they always made sure everyone was taken care of. The crazy costumes made us smile despite sore backs, feet, and the hot weather. All the volunteers that support the walk are amazing!

The first day I made it 14 miles before collapsing of dehydration. I was hauled into the medical tent back at camp-not fun. I wasn't as bad as some that were sent to the hospital, but I didn't realize even as much as I was drinking and eating along the way it is so easy to get dehydrated on a hot day. They had us eat, rest, and drink water and Gatorade nearly every stop and there are a lot of pit stops. The other danger is that you can eat too much and not drink enough. They want you to keep your calories up and it is hard to resist food being shoved at you every chance by the pit stops and people cheering you on the way. It is so kind that people are wanting to cheer you on by giving you something, but after two days of people handing you candy along the way, it isn't beneficial. I just took it and tried to give it away to someone else that I saw who seemed to need it as all the sweets were making me ill. I preferred the applause to the candy!

I met incredible people with amazing stories. A lady that 28 days before the walk had a mastectomy, but did the entire walk every step. A man that fund raises 365 days a year as he does all the breast cancer 3 day walks in every city. He makes his fund raising goal for all of them too. He's retired and passionate about finding a cure. I wanted to ask him if it was because someone he loved died of it, but I think that was the reason he didn't talk about. There were teams of people that gathered because they had one survivor organizing the team and they were friends and family gathered around them for support. There were teams of people grieving the loss of a friend or loved one and they walked for them. There were people who just saw the incredible need to be a part of being a part of the cure. There were women who were pregnant walking from a few weeks to I walked into closing ceremony with a lady 8 months pregnant and her husband walking beside her. There were fit people and people who hadn't trained much at all, but all were passionate about the cause dreaming of a new day where there isn't any cancer.

So I walked and grieved for my losses. I walked and was so happy to be alive. I walked and listened a lot to those that needed to speak and tell their story. I walked and talked some too more than I thought I would. I met a wonderful lady named Heather, who also was a lone walker. She has a huge heart and hope for the end of breast cancer. She so loved the walk that she is on the medical crew this coming year and we hope to walk together again in 2010.
Getting into camp even though they brought me in the first day was wonderful. The community of people brought together in one cause was overwhelming. A memorial was set up for those that wished to remember loved ones. There was a "rock star" singing contest, bingo, a place to write letters and reflect, a store to buy t-shirts and trinkets, but during dinner the speakers that shared their journeys were inspiring to keep us all putting one foot in front of the other and prepare for the next day.

After camping all night, it was freezing in the morning and wet. My body hurt all over and I had a blister I'd missed throbbing on my big toe. It was tiny, but it hurt. It grew and grew throughout the day despite my trying to keep it taken care of. The stiffness didn't wear off until out on the trail for a couple of miles. Heather kept me encouraged and entertained. We talked about our little boys, theatre, and the SCA (her passion). By noon my left knee was so painful I didn't think I could walk another step. It would be my downfall to ever achieving 20 miles in a day, but it only got worse despite the medical team being so kind in wrapping it. Heather I sent on as she wanted to finish the day and I took the bus back again after about 14 miles. I was really discouraged limping into camp and feeling like I'd failed, but so many people said to me "thanks" and said it wasn't about how much I walked, but that I raised the funds and did come and participate and shared my life. That was very humbling and sometimes hard to swallow as I wanted to make the goal that I'd trained for, but I also realized I hadn't trained nearly as hard as it would take for me to finish every day. If I'd trained harder, I would have known about my knee and brought a brace or something, but I was a light weight and suffering for it. The training takes a lot of time and perseverance, but it pays off as I saw with others that did finish 60 miles. I sat for 2 hours cheering people into camp and waiting for Heather to finish. It was her birthday and I wanted her to know that what she was doing on her special day was special indeed. I was sad I couldn't walk with her all the way, but wanted her to know I was there in spirit too. The smile she had when she saw me at the finish line was well worth the couple of hours I spent waiting. The camp that night was beautiful with a full moon over head.
The next day was a blurr. The excitement was thick in the morning mist as we packed up our campsite and left Marymore Park and got onto buses and headed for the UW campus. It was another beautiful day and so good when we began walking. The pain in my knee began in after five miles and got so intense. I hobbled till I got to about twelve miles and then took a van to the pit stop. Feeling better after lunch I hobbled another couple of miles hoping to walk the rest of the way. If you don't make certain stops by certain times especially on the last day they pick you up on the bus and drop you a block from closing cerimonies so you can walk in. That was dissapointing in a way as a group of us really worked hard to try to make it to those stops in time even though we weren't walking without pain. It made me think about the pain of cancer and how many people walk that journey with unspeakable amounts of pain, but they keep going and hoping. My knee was so swollon at this point, even though my ego was a little bruised I was proud to be entering that stadium. Heather and I lost each other on that last day is my only regret as my knee was slowing us down and I told her to go ahead. With so many people there we never found each other again. I kept looking for her, but never saw her. She sent me a Christmas card this year and I know I'm looking forward to possibly walking in 2010.
This year the route is in my hometown of Edmonds and other places I know. I'm a little sad not to be walking in my stomping grounds, but I will go down and cheer them all on as I know what this weekend is costing them. It is a journey and commitment to pray for a cure of this dreaded thing called cancer. God hears our prayers. God sees those it touches. God is merciful and mighty to save. Someday in Heaven there will be no tears over this painful brutal thing, but until then God asks us to keep working for some relief here on earth.