F*ck Cancer

One of the simple joys of having your own website, and your own blog, is you can pretty much publish whatever you want; four letter words included. While I debated for a bit if the title of this post would offend anyone’s sensibilities, in the end I decided to keep this original title as it accurately reflects my state of mind after completing the Atlanta 3-Day this past weekend. Most of my regular readership (and then some judging by the number of hits I got on the site after I posted A Love Story) has read about how I came to be involved in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk here in Atlanta so I’ll skip that portion of my account, but as we’ll see that’s pivotal to understanding what the 3-Day is all about. If you haven’t read it, go back and do so before proceeding further.

So a little back story… on Wednesday night, October 19th, two days before the 3-Day was scheduled to start I arrived home from what I will always consider one of the most epic journeys of my life. I’ll work on documenting that adventure later, as my emotional fortitude is preoccupied with this feeling of … well, of compassion, that is essential to get into words before its feeling fades. When I arrived home, being the astute social media tycoon I am (I use that term entirely satirically and with a predisposition of gross negligence), I checked Facebook. One of the first posts that crossed my eye was a post from Dana, my only fellow 3-Day walker, that she had a friend who was $415 short of making her donation minimum and that she would not be able to walk. In my post entitled Of Loss I made mention of a higher power that sometimes guides my life; once again it reared its majestic head. When I wrote A Love Story, I pledged and committed to donating $500 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation as part of my generosity and goodwill towards breasts, of which my love is well known. I had already donated $100, which was essentially seed money to spark donations from others into my account; nothing motivates like peer pressure. So with that in mind, I was still ‘on the books’ for another $400. While I was on The Great Journey West, through some act of this higher power, the 350Z I had been trying to get rid of sold and I was suddenly ‘rich’. When I committed to the $500 I figured I’d be donating it to myself, little did I know I would raise all the money I needed within 4 hours of posting A Love Story, so it seemed too convenient that Christen needed just $415 to walk with us. Alas, ‘Est Sularus Oth Mithas‘, and I donated $415 to Christen’s account the day before the 3-Day started (I spotted God the $15, I figure he’s good for it). So with that donation in place, our merry band of breast massaging marauders increased to three.

Another consideration to point out, which is essential for the story – for about 3 months prior to starting the walk I had been going to physical therapy once or twice a week to try and fix something in my hamstring. Nobody really knows exactly what it is; I’ve been to two doctors, two different physical therapists, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a psychic, yet no improvement (I’m joking about the psychic). So what does it feel like… well, it feels like you have a permanent charlie horse in your hamstring and after about 200 feet you begin to lose feeling in your foot, then your knee, then your calf, then your thigh, then your hip, until eventually it feels like your entire leg is asleep because you sat in the same position for too long. If you stop and stretch, you get that warm tingly feeling back in your leg and everything is good to go for about 200 more feet. Then you stop, stretch, then walk 200 more feet. Then you stop, stretch, then walk 200 more feet. Rinse and repeat. In any given mile you should plan on stopping about 15-20 times to stretch your hamstring so your 15 minute mile quickly becomes a 35 or 40 minute mile. You can see how this would affect the pace needed to complete an 18 mile day.

On Friday morning, Day 1, I awoke at 5am, showered, packed a camelbak with water, spare socks, foot powder, a big tube of BenGay, an Ace bandage, a bottle of Advil, a bottle of my prescribed anti-inflammatory med’s, my wallet, and cell phone and set off for the opening ceremonies at Stone Mountain.

Upon arriving it was like entering a Disney Land where Snow White and Little Miss Muffet had vomited pink on everything. I mean everything. As a man, its kind of disconcerting, but in the same way wearing camouflage fatigues becomes the norm for an infantryman, so did the pink decorations become the norm for me. In fact, by Sunday I was sporting a pink breast cancer ribbon tattoo under my left eye like a single tear shed by a stoic warrior, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So once we were checked in, we listened to the opening ceremonies and after much fanfare and a few tears, we set out upon mile 1 and the journey was upon us. The day started well…

Mile 1: Day going well. Leg in good shape.
Mile 2: Day going well. Leg in good shape.
Mile 3: Day going well. Leg… slightly sore.
Mile 4: Day going to hell. Leg… more than slightly sore.
Mile 5: Fuck my leg hurts.
Mile 6: Holy fuck… I can’t feel my left foot.
Mile 7: We have just lost cabin pressure…
Mile 8: Disaster.

When we set out, I was determined to walk every mile of every day come hell or high water. I defied (and lied to) my physician because I didn’t want him to tell me I couldn’t walk. It was more important to me to be with Dana than it was to suffer physical pain, even if that meant the possibility of really doing some permanent damage. Big tough man and all that combined with a stubbornness borne through years of practice; yeah, you get it. So around mile 8, visibly limping, I passed one of the crossing guards / safety monitors. He inquired as to my limp, I explained I was fine, just a tinge sore, no worries. About 40 yards down the street I stopped to stretch, and as Dana and Christen can vouch for, I stopped to stretch quite frequently… it was the only way to get the pain to stop so I could continue on for another 40 yards. So along comes what’s called a ‘Sag Wagon’, basically a 10 person van that picks up the wounded and takes them to the next scheduled pit stop and drops them off at medical. The lady of the van, a really kind lady, asked if I was ok, I said sure, I’m fine, no worries, just stretching, and then she proceeded to pull over and jump out of her van and approach me. After some general dialog, to which I don’t remember the exact details, I said to her “I don’t want to get in the van. Are you going to make me get in?”. And she said to me “I can’t make you get in the van. I understand how you feel, but you’ve got three days of walking. Whatever or whoever you’re walking for would want you to get a ride with us up to the next pit stop and go to medical to get your leg looked at.” And inside, despite my best attempts to deny it, I knew she was right. So I acquiesced to her request and got a ride for 2 miles up to the next pit stop. At the time, I was emotionally crushed. I felt like I had failed, that despite my best efforts and most determined mind set… I failed. I was near tears… this was so important to me that I would have climbed the deepest seas and swam the tallest mountains to make it reality. I felt like I had let everyone down who donated to me.

As I reached camp, I shot a quick text to my girlfriend and mom and let them know I failed. And their responses shocked me – they both said I was an idiot. They both said: This wasn’t about me taking a nature hike through Atlanta, this was about the people who donated to me supporting a belief in a cause that was greater than themselves. It took me several minutes to wrap my brain around it, and I hope that I’ve articulated that clearly enough. Me walking these miles and me gathering donations was never about me… it was about them. I had already achieved success by gathering the donations; the 3-Day walk was almost a reward for that undertaking. So after being dropped off, resting my leg for a bit, pounding down a double dose of anti-inflammatory med’s and some Advil, I filled my camelbak and rejoined the walk. As a side note, you’re not supposed to mix prescription anti-inflammatory med’s and Advil, it causes your stomach to bleed. Don’t ask how I know this.

So with that mindset in place I rejoined Dana and Christen, had lunch, and finished out the day. We had essentially hiked from Stone Mountain, through Decatur, to the Georgia World Congress Center in one day. Of the 18 miles on the route card, I think I completed about 13 of them. On a bum leg, I’ll take that as an adequate attempt.

Day 2 began much like Day 1. Up early, pack my kit, and get to the start point at the Georgia World Congress Center and wait in line with 4,499 other people. On Day 2 we hiked through downtown, through midtown, up through Buckhead, down Peachtree street to Lindbergh station… and then called it a day. All three of us, Dana, Christen, and I, were about at our limit after doing 12 of the 18 miles. My leg hurt something fierce, Christen had blisters the size of jelly beans on her toes, and Dana was completely done in. At the cheering station at Lindbergh, we said our goodbyes and planned to get a few extra hours of rest to gear up for Day 3.

But during Day 2, there were a couple of things that happened to me which really shaped this feeling of compassion which two days later I just can’t seem to shake. The first thing, was the sense of community exhibited not by the walkers but by the people on the side or the road, driving by in cars, and the people running the event. For those that have never done a 3-Day, the echoes of “thanks for walking” and “looking good” become so passe that its hard to describe this little smile you get deep inside when so many people are cheering you on your way. It’s a feeling of righteousness, one that many people will never feel in their journey of life; and that is the real tragedy of this disease – that it robs people of their life. While cliche, the slogan “Everyone deserves a life” is so apt that I over look the cliche and accept it as a simple truth. My advice is this – if you ever get the opportunity to support the walk, go setup a table with about 10 boxes of Kleenex and some candy, you’ll be a hero. Speaking of hero’s, I have to mention the 3-Day Coffee Kids – you guys were awesome!

The second thing I have to mention is the spirit of the people doing the walk. T-Shirts with pictures of women who have died adorn many of the T-shirts, or T-Shirts “In Memory Of” along with a list of names of people who have died … it’s a powerful wine. I remember one lady I talked to – her younger sister became sick, was diagnosed with breast cancer, so the doctor recommend her other sisters get tested. The middle sister, the one I was walking with, tested negative. The older sister… tested positive. Within a year this lady had lost both of her sisters to breast cancer. To hear it 3rd hand from me does it no justice; to see the tears in her eyes, to see the pictures of these women on her shirt… it hurts and its real and I am thankful for being alive. The walk is a celebration in life if above all over things.

Another interesting thing that happened to me on that Saturday – while walking up Peachtree Street towards Lindbergh, I noticed this lady limping along as I was. One of the other walkers, who was in good health, approached her and asked if she was alright. The limping lady responded with saying she was trying to make her way up to the top of the hill because her family, and most importantly her daughters, were waiting for her at the cheering station not far ahead. With an exasperated sigh, she commented on how important it was to show her daughters how to be strong, how to over come challenges… how to live. And so the lady who was in good health grabbed the limping lady’s arm, draped it across her shoulders, and said to her “Girl, how about we get up this hill together?”. The smile and gratitude in the limping ladies face was like a ray of sunshine on a desolate plain of grey. That in a single instance, is what the 3-Day is all about. It’s about coming together as one to help women in pain overcome something so threatening to them.

Ohh yeah, and my button… Thanks Dana! So ended Day 2.

Day 3 was the longest day so far, about 15 miles of walking. At one point I had to hop on a bus and head to lunch since I couldn’t keep up with the minimum pace, but towards the end with a fresh set of anti-inflammatory drugs coursing through me and a good tape job from the folks at medical on my leg I was motoring. The highlight of Day 3 was the end to me, to walk into Turner Field with a smile on my face, hundreds of people lining the road cheering us on, to feel the exultation of making it so far… was awesome. To see the survivors cheering during the closing ceremony… I felt proud to be part of something so great, and that feeling I had, I hope, is the same feeling that I hope everyone who donated to me felt when they clicked the submit button. I fervently hope that one day, sometime in their lives, those who donated to me will walk in their own 3-Day. And when you need donations, I’m here and I’m good for it. Nor can I say thank you enough to the people who donated to enable me to walk those 60 miles… but I’ll try…

Thank You.

I can’t describe to you how it feels to be involved with the 3-Day and have it mean anything. I really wish I could, I wish I could let you feel the little smile creep out as thousands of people, one after another for miles and miles, tell you “thank you for walking”, or a little kid hands you a piece of candy for you to munch on as you walk, or to listen to a mother’s story of how she battled cancer after giving birth to her firstborn daughter while you walk beside her. These are things I can never share with you and have them mean the same thing as they did to me. I hope that I was able to give those that donated to me or another Walker a feeling of satisfaction, a feeling that they were doing something bigger than themselves, something that made a difference. After doing the walk, and not only hearing these stories but experiencing them first hand, I know that I’ll be in the same place next year doing the same thing alongside 4,990 women, 10 guys, and Dana. And at the end I’ll tell you the same thing … fuck cancer.