12 September 2013

There's a Woman on This Street with Parakeets

I'm sorry I'm a bit late getting this blog out.  I haven't been feeling too well for a few days but I think I'm on the mend.  If you follow my blog you know that I walked in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer this past weekend. We walked 39.3 miles.  Our Team In Her Shoes raised an impressive $12,056. between the 6 of us that walked.  We also had 9 team members on crew this year.  My husband  Neddy and Sugar's husband Zee, and another friend of ours crewed Pack Up. My sister and 3 of my friends (all past walkers) crewed food service.  And Ani (yes, Ani Bubbles) and her friend Stephanie, were on the medical crew!

Best Team ever!!

It was an amazing weekend, as it always is.  This was my 10th time participating.  And while I was on the route with Fr. Vazken, we were about to turn a corner on about mile 34 and I said, "There's a woman on this street with parakeets."  And sure enough, we rounded the corner, walked down about 1/2 a block, and there they were.  The parakeets.  In a cage on the front lawn of a home, as it always has been in years past. And Fr. Vazken said, "That's what you should blog about.  The familiarity of things and how it brings comfort."  

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!
Looking back now...there definitely is a comfort there in the familiarity of the event.  And because this experience has been so great for me,  I wanted to share that experience with whomever wanted to join in.  Last year we had 18 walkers, most of them first timers.   I was the team leader and mother hen.  I organized training walks, and fundraisers.  I sent out packing lists and play-by-plays of what needed to be done.  It was a lot of work, but what it did was make my walkers' first experience so memorable, that some of them signed up again for 2013.  Maybe not to walk, but to support...to participate, to be there and stand up for the cause.  And I so appreciate all their efforts.  Because a walk of this proportion requires so many staff and logistics personnel to make things run smoothly.  And my team was part of that as well.

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.

Opening ceremony
I never get enough sleep the night before, though I always try, but I guess it's the excitement of the next day. Morning comes and off we go.  Drop off your duffle bag and sleeping bag at the truck and head over the the opening ceremony.  The sun is just peaking up, and we meet up with the team on the right side of the stage. Everyone's got their pink on.  Every year is a surprise with what people will wear, but the familiarity is in that there will always be surprises.  This year we saw two men in pink plaid kilts walking.  The usual pink wigs and tutus.  Capes with the names and photos of loved ones.  Tshirts with team names and cute sayings.

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!
We follow the coast heading north.  It's beautiful.  And there are so many walkers.  You can see all the people walking for their loved ones.  The sound of the people who are supporting us walkers are all familiar. Friends and neighbors, sleep children in their pajamas sitting in front of their homes,  volunteers,  all come out along the route to cheer along this moving sea of pink.  Clapping, cheering, plastic clappers, cowbells, applause and "thank you's".  There are those that volunteer every year to cheer.  I have my favorites.  There is a woman that is there year after year.  She's got her sparkly pink TOMS on.  She pulls her car over, puts on her Shania Twain CD, and dances as we walk by.  Last year I noticed a quiet, unassuming volunteer on the route.  She would applaud us quietly as we walked by.  This year, I saw her again.  As I walked by all I said, was "Hey, I remember you!  You were here last year."  This woman was so excited that I remembered.  "Yes!  Yes, I was here!"  She gave me a hug and I thanked her for cheering for us.  For the next 39 miles, she was my best friend.  Each time I saw her I approached her with "Hi, favorite cheer person!"  And this of course would make her smile and wave at us.   There are always three older ladies with pink wigs and outfits that cheer, dance and sing for us.  There's a man dressed as a cow - udderly ridiculous.  He cheers, offers walkers sublock and reminds us to stretch. All of these volunteers do their thing for us, and then get in their cars, go a few miles up the route, and do it all over again, all day long.  All weekend long.

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
schedule. Because each rest stop has a closing time, and you'll be shuttled to the next stop if you fall behind so it's important to pace yourself on the walk and do at least a 20 minute mile consistently to avoid what they call "being swept."

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!
At mile 24, Ani is working the rest stop.  She offers hugs and muscle rub.  Its great having a nurse daughter.  She also had a stash of clean ice that I wrapped in my bandana and tied around my neck.  The buses are lined up there, ready to take those that can't go on over to the wellness village.  Keep walking.  Around mile 25 a woman standing on the side of the route, puts a pink ribbon around my neck.  Every three minutes.  I am part of the statistic.  You know that mile 26 is around the corner when you hear the cheering.  Mind you, it's not just 26 miles on that first day, but 26.2 miles.  And that .2 takes forever!  But finally, as you enter the wellness village, you hear the cheering, and the clapping.  This year, my husband was on crew and so he was there when I crossed the Day One finish line.   As familiar as it is to cross it, it was way better to see him there.  There are other familiar faces too.  The Avon staff and volunteers are there.  There is a tent set up with foot massagers, and you plop down on the chair, slip off your shoes and let the little mechanical massager work it's magic.  In the short time that you're seated there, talking with your friends old and new, this terrible stiffness and soreness creeps in.  And you really wonder where it came from so suddenly.  Even that's familiar.  Standing up is painful. Sitting down is painful. Walking is painful.  It's all painful.  My legs, my hips...but not my feet.  My feet were fine....no blisters!  As painful as it is, you know that tomorrow, you'll be okay.  Sore or not, you're going to wake up, lace up your shoes, and hit the road for another 13.1 miles!

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 next morning you don't have too much time.  Get dressed and cleaned up, pack up your sleeping bag and your tent, put your duffle bag on the truck, have breakfast, fill up your water,  and be ready to hit the route ready to tackle another 13 miles.  Everyone is moving a little slow on day two.  And the soreness seems to get greater and greater as the miles go on but you don't dare stop.  We walk on, and one.  The motor crew - bikers that volunteer for the event - with their dyed pink beards, ask more frequently now: "How are you doing?  Doing okay?"  And finally, a short walk up a hill, and through one of the final residential areas....this is where the parakeets are.  They're there every year.  I've never seen the person they belong to but passing by this manicured lawn , you can't help put spot the cage of parakeets.  So colorful.  This is my reminder.  A reminder that this journey - at least for this weekend - is almost over.  As we near mile 39, we hear the music and the cheering of the crowds.  The finish line is only a short block away, but in order to make it a true 39.3 miles, they route us down two blocks and across three and then back...and finally the finish line is in view.  The mile 39 marker is there, and  everyone lines up to take a picture with it.  Approaching the finish line we're greeted by our family, and the rest of our team.  It's emotional.  We hold hands and raise them in victory.  We hug. And cry. And laugh.  And take pictures.  39.3 miles. Familiar miles.  An all too familiar disease.   Friendships made because of it.  Friendships stolen because of it.  And because of cancer research, lives are saved as well.

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"
make an entrance....followed by all the crew members who helped make the walk happen.  And then we get to see how the money we raised is distributed as Avon presents the checks to the various community organizations that are recipients.  That's what's good about this walk:  the money stays within the community and the community benefits with cancer research, mammograms for the needy, meals for those battling cancer. Again we're asked to raise our hands in the air, reach out and hold the hand of the person next to us. We observe a moment of silence for those who are no longer with us because of this disease.  And to me, it's a time to recommit myself to the cause.  I will keep walking.  I will keep fighting.

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.

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