|Best Team ever!!|
It's true. I have done this amazing walk 10 times in my life. And most all of those times were in Santa Barbara. The first time I signed up to do the Avon Walk was back in 1998...when the walk was a 3 day walk where we traveled from Santa Barbara to Malibu - 60 miles - doing 20 miles a day. I was younger then. But I signed up that year to celebrate my 5 years of remission from breast cancer. I remember the walk fell right on my anniversary day - October 22. It was the day I finished my last radiation treatment 5 years prior, and they told me then that if I make it to 5 years without recurrence, you can consider yourself cured. So what better way to celebrate than to give back and do this walk. I walked alone that year, and along the way, I met survivors, and people that were walking in memory or honor of their loved ones. I met those battling cancer right at that time, with no hair, and scarves or hats. After spending the past 5 years worrying about recurrence, doctor's check ups, blood work ups, mammograms, this walk empowered me.
It elevated me. And I was hooked. I walked that same 3 day, three more times and then
took a break for a while. And then Avon announced that they were changing course and having a 2 day, 39.3 mile (Marathon and a half) instead. And I signed up...and I haven't stopped.
|Raise your hands up and keep them|
up if you're a survivor!
I was thinking about what it is that makes this so familiar for me. I mean, it's a once a year event and there are 363 days in between to think about, but the feeling is so powerful and the impressions so vivid, that I thought I'd share with you.
There is familiarity in PINK. From the moment you arrive at Event Eve the Friday before the walk to the time you head home after the closing ceremony, you are surrounded in pink. Pink Ribbons, shirts, pink bubble gum, pink Reeboks, you name it, they have it in pink. You just know, year after year, that there will always be pink there. And it envelopes you. You want to wear pink to show you're part of the group. Even my husband - who hates pink! - wore his pink crew shirt for the closing ceremony.
There is comfort and familiarity in preparing my pack for the walk. I have it down to a science. I carry with me the names of those that are fighting cancer, have won, have lost the battle. Those hang from a carbeaner for people to see. My pack carriers my water, a pen, a lot of blister bandaids, Alleve, lip balm, cell phone, bandana and my ID. This year, I felt like the patron saint of blisters, because seriously, I distributed those blister bandaids any time I came across a fellow walker who had a shoe and sock off at the side of the road.
The ceremony begins. We are told that every three minutes someone gets diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, this is familiar....for the past several years. The statistic hasn't changed. A small group of people people approach the stage and each tells their story. One has battled cancer, one has lost a loved one, one is a teen whose life has changed by it, one is battling now. Each puts a pink ribbon around the other's neck. The ribbon says 'every three minutes" and we're told that throughout the weekend, these pink ribbons will be randomly distributed to remind us that within the short time that we're together during the weekend, that many lives will be changed forever by a cancer diagnosis. And then, so you can feel the connection of the weekend and the disease that brought us together they ask you to raise your hands and hold them up if you're a survivor. Up go my hands. Up go my friend Sugar's hands. Then raise your hands if you're participating because someone you love is affected by breast cancer. Up go more hands. Raise your hands if you're there because you have lost someone to breast cancer. More hands go up. Now reach out and take the hand of the person next to you. There we stand all of us hands in the air, holding on to each other. It's the most beautiful thing. And very emotional. In that moment you realize the connection. How this terrible disease is affecting each and every one of us who are there. The walk officially begins this way. And off we go.
|I love the cow man!|
The route is marked with pink signs and mile markers. Catchy, funny, and sometimes motivational sayings like, "I Pink I can, I pink I can, I know I can." or "Blisters don't need chemo" When you first start the walk, you find yourself stopping for photo ops along the way at the mile markers. Mile 1? Maybe not. But mile 3, mile 5 for sure, mile 10. But as the day wears on, and the reality of the number of miles ahead settles in, you start walking with a goal. The photos become less frequent. The goal is to get to your rest stop ahead of
|One of the signs that mark our route|
The hills are familiar to me. I have to say that this year was my best year. I usually hit a wall somewhere around mile 20. But this year I was okay with it all. As soon as I hit mile 17, the remaining miles are in the single digits....9 miles to go. 8 to go. When we hit 6, Fr. Vazken said, "Six miles. That's 2x around the Rose Bowl ...we can do that." It was constant inner dialogue like that. And as we got to about mile 21, there was familiarity in the ocean, the beautiful surf, the fine mist of the waves crashing. We were walking along the Montecito estates. The prettiest part of the walk. I remembered that years prior, when Ani and I were walking this path, we made up a story and tried to see if we could get a rumor started. We knew that Oprah Winfrey had a home in Montecito. When we were around a group of walkers, we started talking about how this particular estate was Oprah's home. That year on that day there was actually preparation for a large party at that estate, and we overheard our rumour catching wind. Walkers were trying to look through the fence to see Oprah's house. Year's later, I always think of that walk with Ani whenever I pass that home.
|Energizing bachigs from Ani!|
The wellness village is like a tent city. The big tent has hundreds of tables and chairs where you can sit and have your dinner visit with friends, charge your phone, watch the entertainment. There is a tent for medical care; a tent for chiropractic; a tent for massage; a mini store; and a tent for yoga stretch. This year four of my team members worked in food service including my baby sister, Sona. Our girls were hilarious, always bringing their craziness and fun with them. Two of them wore Wonder Woman aprons, and two wore aprons with bikini bodies on them. They were having a great time serving up the hundreds and hundreds of walkers with their smiles. There are tents, and there are portapotties. And there are amazing shower trucks with wonderful hot private showers.
After dinner, I sat near the phone charging station to charge up my phone, and I had a conversation with a nice man named Ricky. He was just sitting there. Long hair to his shoulders, a friendly smile. We spoke while we waited. In a little bit, Ani came up and joined us. Ricky had lost his mother to breast cancer. He looked to be in his 50's. Was a gardener from Texas. We shared mom stories. My mom has been staying with us. And Ricky said that when his mom got diagnosed, she called him to come home. He was her caregiver. He told me that he would try to keep up her spirits in the end, but the cancer had spread and she wasn't up to anything. Eventually she passed. He was there with her. He said he missed her terribly. For the first few months after his mother died, he didn't know what to do. And then he heard about the Avon Walk. Despite the fact that his brothers discouraged him, he signed up. And he has been walking in her memory for the past 4 years. He said, "I have to do something. This is what I do. Once a year. For her." The following day Ani shared with me in passing. "Hey Mom, I saw your friend Ricky this morning around mile 10. He was wearing a cape." : ) That's another great thing about the walk. It's okay to wear your cape.
There's a woman on this walk who is an icon. Her name is Barbara Jean. This woman has to be in her late 70's, and she has walked EVERY walk in each of the cities that it's held in, every year for the past 16 years. Santa Barbara, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver....if there's an Avon Walk she's there. Walking in memory of her husband. She walks with her daughter, and this year her granddaughter was on the Youth Crew. Truly amazing, this woman has raised over $1.5 million dollars for breast cancer. When you're walking on the route, her familiar cape pinned with ribbons that hold the names of those that she's walking in memory of is a reminder that anyone, no matter what age, can make a difference as long as you have a caring and compassionate heart. She deserves the cape; she's a super woman.
|Yn. Susan, Fr. Vazken & I at Mile 39!|
The closing ceremony is for all our family and friends. All the walkers walk in together....then the survivors
|My breast friend Sugar and I at|
closing ceremonies. We're survivors.
Sorry for the "hat hair"
The walk is empowering. When cancer hits it's easy to think of yourself as a victim. I mean this is something that happens TO you. You're definitely not in control. But when you walk this walk, surrounded by so many others that have walked in your shoes, and you in theirs, you put that victim mentality aside, and you become the victor!
I was telling our family and friends after the closing ceremony, that we've all heard about drugs like PCP that give the user superhuman strength and allow them to do the unimaginable. Alone, I don't think that I would be able to walk 39 miles in 2 days' time. But together, with the love, support, prayers, and by the God's Grace, we are able to do amazing things. We can turn IMPOSSIBLE, to I'm POSSIBLE!
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of your for your prayers donations and support. Especially your prayers for a blister-free walk because I didn't get the blisters this year and I know it was because of those prayers. I also want to thank you for giving me the honor of walking in memory, honor or celebration of your loved ones. I carried them with me every step of the way and I felt your thoughts and prayers with us too.
I also want to congratulate our Team, In Her Shoes for once again, making this weekend a memorable one. We did it. AND, I want to let you all know that sign ups for Avon Walk 2014 started that afternoon at the closing ceremony, and I'm proud to say that Team In Her Shoes 2014 ALREADY has 12 members!!
So think about it. If you're interested in walking, or crewing next year, drop me a line. If you have your doubts about being able to do it...c'mon! We'll do it together!
Remember: Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can't, you're right!!
Believe you can! Make a difference!! Be the change.