As I sit here on this Sunday evening slathered in sports cream, I feel beyond blessed to have completed my second Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York City. I’m thankful I could join my fellow St. Mary’s High School Gael, Sue, for our second journey together and equally elated we could add Christine, Stephanie and Lisa to this year’s pink warrior adventure. While each of us walked for relatives and friends touched by the disease that remains the number one cancer killer of women in the United States, we also teamed up on behalf of an organization aimed at improving the quality of life for those living with breast cancer and their families.
You Can Thrive! offers free and low-cost support services and long-term prevention and survivorship tools for breast cancer survivors. This includes everything from acupuncture to massage to nutritional education and to peer support. Sue and I learned about the foundation thanks to the group’s volunteers who have helped our fellow Gael pal, Elizabeth, who is still waging her own war against breast cancer. Being greeted by You Can Thrive! volunteers and many survivors with hugs, pom-poms and loud hoorahs at their cheering station one mile from the finish line was in a word, overwhelming.
When our fierce team of five finally crossed the finish, we did so hand-in-hand and tears immediately filled my eyes. I was bombarded by a flood of visions from the two-day trek: the woman wearing a pink cape covered with too many ribbons showcasing the names of those she’s lost to breast cancer since she her first Avon walk 11 years ago; the volunteer firefighter wearing full gear for the entire Walk; the woman who completed the journey with help from an amazing support group who not only pushed her wheelchair around the city streets, but even carried it up the stairs to the Manhattan Bridge; and the survivors – young and old – proudly wearing sashes and smiles. I thought of my own mom, now a seven-year survivor. I thought of Elizabeth, and how much I want her to join us in this journey next year. Finally, I thought about how wonderful it will be when we don’t have to have to walk ever again.
I end with a huge thank you to everyone who generously supported my journey. Thanks to you, I raised more money than last year, reaching $3860. I also want to thank all of you who sent supportive emails and texts or liked and shared my social media posts documenting everything from my preparation for the journey to the weekend milestones. I couldn’t have done this without an amazing team effort! If you’ve been thinking about being a part of Avon39 or other activities to wage war against a disease that’s hit close to home, get out there and do it! Putting your best foot forward – literally – is probably one of the most empowering ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!
People often talk about life-changing experiences. At 40, I can say I’ve had a few. Yet nothing compares to the two-day, 39.3 mile journey around New York City shared with thousands of people from all over the country, all sporting pink for a purpose. Being a part of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer can be summed up in one just one word: empowering.
When I arrived at Pier 84 along the Hudson River just after six on Saturday morning, I immediately felt a surge of energy. Then Sue, my fellow St. Mary’s Gael, and I found each other among the masses of people stretching, filling their water bottles and taking photos before the start of the journey and my excitement intensified through the duration of our bear-hug greeting. After the opening ceremony featuring motivational music and moving stories from breast cancer survivors and those who lost loved ones to the disease, we were off. When the journey ended nearly 30 hours later back at the spot where it all began, Sue and I had tears in our own eyes as we gave each other another bear hug and crossed the finish line.
The journey took us through many New York neighborhoods from the Upper West Side to Greenwich Village, over the Brooklyn Bridge, to Randall’s Island and back to where it all started. As we crossed streets with safe guidance and motivation offered by an amazing crew of volunteers, and welcomed pom-pom animated cheers from well-wishers in the different neighborhoods, we met people with so many different stories. A nine-year survivor who’s already looking forward to next year when her three granddaughters will join in for their first walk. A man from North Carolina who has participated in 91 Avon walks around the country in honor of his son who had a double mastectomy at the age of 17 and a friend who’s also battling the disease. The other first-timers who knew after mile one they’d be back next year – just like me and Sue.
The stories and the hometowns were different, but we all came together for the same purpose. To literally take steps toward wiping out a disease that affects far too many lives each year. At the closing ceremonies, while we celebrated the fact that the New York event raised seven-point-one million dollars, we were also presented with the sad reality that while we walked, another 150 people lost their lives to breast cancer over the weekend. But as the survivors walked into the ceremony site, their spirit reminded us that we can’t give up the fight against breast cancer. Their determination, matched with the challenge of finishing a 39-mile journey taught me we are all stronger than we think.
As many of you already know, I’ve wanted to walk the Walk since my mom beat breast cancer in 2008. Then this year, Sue and I learned we had a common source of motivation as one of our classmates is now waging her own war against the disease. On Sunday afternoon, Liz joined us at the closing ceremonies and we all agreed we couldn’t wait to start planning our next walk when she would join us as a survivor.
I write this post realizing I’ve probably never been this sore or tired in my life, but I also realize I’ve also never felt so exhilarated. There is something amazing about pushing your body to the limit with the help of sheer determination stemming from something close to your heart. Once again, I want to thank all my friends and family who made a donation and helped me get to the starting line and whose faith kept me pushing through to the end. Please know these are only a few of dozens of great images I captured over the weekend. If you’re following me on Facebook, be sure to check my page for the complete Avon Walk album to be posted soon! (And if you aren’t following me there yet, now’s the time to do it!)
If you’ve been thinking about joining the Avon Walk or other similar efforts to take up the fight against a disease that’s hit close to home, get out there and do it! Putting your best foot forward – literally – is probably one of the most empowering ways to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!