Maybe it was just because I had finished a day that was supposed be filled with joy and victory; maybe it was because my legs hurt so much; maybe it was because I had just put a lot of money into fixing my car, but Sunday I lost it. I turned on my car and yet another light was on. This time it was the brake failure light. I don’t know much about cars, but I know that isn’t a good thing and so at the end of my preverbal rope I lost it and alone began to cry in an Am/Pm parking lot as my Mini Cooper lay lifeless. Not one of my proudest moments. I had just finished the Susan G Komen three day Walk for the Cure for breast cancer. I had finished walking 60 miles and I had had it. My car’s failure sent me into a puddle of tears.
As shared in an older post, I am the blessed daughter of an amazing four-time cancer survivor. Because of that I feel a strong connection to the cause and when asked by my incredible survivor friend and church congregant Michelle to join her team for a three day sixty mile challenge I was eager. I joined three years ago. I loved my first year. The experience of walking through the city of San Diego for 20 miles a day being cheered on by many survivors, and those who love them, as well as those who have lost a loved one was life changing. Having people who don’t even know you look at you with tears in their eyes and the words thank you rocks you to your very core. My second year, after such a great experience, I invited my parents to join me. At that point my mom had been an 11 year breast cancer survivor.
Both of my parents joined me as we fundraised and as we took on the 60 mile challenge. Both of my parents gave it an amazing try. My mom wasn’t able to complete the whole route as her shins told her they were not going to cooperate. Instead she met us at almost every pit stop to cheer us on and walked as far as she could. She was a warrior. My dad on the other hand slow but steady walked the entire route, all sixty miles with swollen ankles and deep determination. He wore pink and a button that explained he did this for his wife. It was inspiring. Other men would pass him and say “you keep me going.” Someone took a photo of us walking together it is still one of my favorites. What I realized is that for most of my life we had never talked about how my mom’s cancer has affected us. As Canadians we tend to just laugh about our pain. It is the reason why most comedians are Canadian. It is a bit of a national ethos to laugh about that which pains us most. As we walked together we shared a little bit about how scary it was and how grateful we were for all the days we have had with my mom.
There is an amazing closing ceremony to the walk. We wait for every last walker to get in. This year 3,400 walkers took the challenge. Everyone gets a white shirt unless you are a survivor. Survivors get a pink shirt. It is both beautiful and distressing to see the sea of pink shirts. The finishers all head arm in arm to the closing. The last ones to enter are the survivors and as they enter we take off our shoe and lift it high in the air to honor them. It is one of the most touching things I have ever witnessed. Last year as my mom entered they asked her to hold one of the flags it read “courage.” I looked over at my father, the strong, rock of a Doctor and husband, had tears coming down his face; and for the first time, we were able to grieve and rejoice over what we had gone through together. My friend, Cathleen, stood with me, grabbed my hand, and I realized that no one ever really goes through this alone. All these people around me were my team. My mom once said that she thinks cancer is harder on those who love you and I don’t think she is right (I mean she is a tough cookie) but I think it affects us more than we realize.
A week after my mom and dad flew back home; my mom had her annual mammogram. She called me to reveal what we all feared most had happened she had cancer again. I was devastated, but my first call was to Michelle and she called the rest of the team she wasn’t going to let our family go through this alone. Next came a double mastectomy and lots of recovery. My dad sent me a picture of my mom wrapped in the pink prayer blanket, women in my church had knit. They had given it to another team member when she was going through chemo. She prayed over it and sent it to my mom. In a weird way, it felt like all of us holding her up.
Fast forward to this Sunday, I had just finished the walk and had dinner with a former youth group student. I felt sorry for myself all the other teammates are married or had family to come pick them up, but this year my parents were unable to be there as my mom is recovering and as a singleton I currently didn’t have anyone to come get me. I could have hopped in a ride with other team members but I decided to visit my student. So I was headed back alone when my breaks failed. As I sat in the tow truck trying not to cry in front of the driver, I texted the people who kept texting to ask how the walk went. To most I was positive, but to a couple I responded truthfully. My amazing roommate and car expert calmed me down about the car and offered to come get me. I was safe in the tow truck but still feeling sorry for myself. I texted one friend that “I have had it and I am tired of doing things alone. I wish I had a family to be with me through this.” The 65 mile ride to my house calmed me down. I reached my driveway still wearing my walking gear and face paint. I walked towards my house and saw a most unusual site. Tiny toys lined the walk way toward my house. Several of the toys held little signs that said things like “you are a rock star” “you did it” “60 miles you are amazing.” Two of my churchy friends had snuck over to my house to encourage me with this amazing display. They had each written a letter of encouragement. I wasn’t alone I never was. I think that is what church often is and should be- a reminder that you are never alone. So my question to you great reader is who are your team mates? You may not be going through cancer, or car malfunction but this journey has bumps in the road and we all need teammates. That is what church is for me, teammates. We are an imperfect team, but we are a team. As thanksgiving approaches I am so thankful that I am not an island and no one has to be.