Editor's note: The 2011 Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure walk was held Aug. 12-14 in Metro Detroit. Berkley Patch contributor Libby Turpin shares her reflections on the event, which raises money for breast cancer research.
The hit sitcom Friends was my favorite show. In one episode, Phoebe struggled to find a true selfless deed — a deed that aided someone, somehow, somewhere without any reward or gift in return. Although Phoebe’s quest was comical, in her quirky way, it sparked something in me.
I found my true selfless deed when I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was not my baby. I did not name her. I did not feed her. I did not take her home. I was a surrogate. I carried her for my friends. I gave them a family when a court of law would not. I gave them a life, a family. In essence, I gave them hope and faith.
Yet afterward, like many postpartum experiences, I felt a void. I came home from the hospital 30 pounds heavier and no baby to account for it. But the baby fat wasn’t what was weighing on my mind; the childless homecoming was not weighing on my mind. I was no longer needed. I had completed my selfless deed.
I needed a cause. I needed a selfless cause.
I decided I would walk the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, 60 miles in three days. Why breast cancer, you might ask? No one in my family had suffered from breast cancer. None of my friends had suffered from breast cancer. Yet, to walk the 3-Day, you have to devote hundreds of hours to training, plus raise $2,300. Surely, it would not be an easy quest. Given the time and energy I would need to devote to training and fundraising, it would be a selfless journey, one in which I would not receive any reward or gift in return.
Or so I thought.
If the meaning of selfless is to be concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own, then participating in the 3-Day fit the bill. But if you take Phoebe’s definition, one in which you receive no reward, no gift, no benefit from the experience, then walking the 3-Day fails. The rewards are endless.
Everyone has a story
Meet Hope. The 42-year-old lady's only hope was to see her daughter graduate from high school. Hope was battling cancer for the second time. She was walking, or at least trying to. My team came across her on Day 3, early morning. Hope had told her team to walk ahead; she was tired, laden with blisters and did not want to hold them up. Hope shared her story, her fight. This walk is nothing compared to the cancer treatments, she said. She thanked us, my team, profusely for walking. Seeing the thousands of walkers gave her faith and hope to an end, even though it would not happen in her lifetime.
Meet Faith. She was diagnosed when she was 25. At age 27, her boyfriend walked with her, holding her hand.
Meet Joy. She was walking in honor of her mother, her sister and her twin sister. She does not quite understand how she has been saved, but she walks for the cure.
Meet Will. As a man in his 60s, he was walking to collect promises. “Have you gotten a mammogram yet?” he would ask every young woman along the route. More often than not, he would get the response, “No, I am only 23.” Does not matter, he would warn. Obviously, Faith fully understood this message.
Meet team Luby’s Boobies or Suz Cruise or Ta-Ta Breast Cancer. These teams of 15 to 49 people each raised more than $100,000 and made a celebration of life out of the event. Their infectious kindred spirits ran through the route.
We are all cheerleaders
The 3-Day route is set up with cheering stations, where family members and community supporters come out to cheer for the walkers.
These supporters come bearing fresh, cold watermelon slices and grapes, Jolly Rancher and Life Savers candies, Popsicles and gum. Yet nothing is sweeter than their faces, their heartfelt gratitude, their tears.
My first year walking, I noticed a young woman, bald, with a toddler on her hip. She was carrying a sign that said, "thank you for walking." Her little toddler was carrying a sign that said, "thank you for saving my mommy." These two were at every cheering station, following our route, following our journey.
I easily spotted them in downtown Plymouth, the largest cheering station by far. In Plymouth, the walkers are a parade for the supporters. The fountain is dyed pink, the streets are closed, and the people line up dozens deep. And they were there, mom's bald head shining in the sun, waving their signs.
Many people make their own cheering stations. Dancing Lady — she is only known as Dancing Lady — follows our route with her iPod and giant speakers. You can hear her music before you see her. She doesn’t walk, but she dances and dances and dances, high-fiving all walkers as they stroll by. When your hips are locked up by Mile 18, dancing lady is music to your soul, giving you courage to finish those last few miles.
Medicine Man — which is what I call him, but he prefers Walker-Stalker — also follows us. He sets up a table with Motrin, sunscreen, bug spray, Bio-freeze, Band-Aids. You name it, he has it. If not, he will go get it for you.
Have you ever seen a grown man cry? Especially a big, burly biker? Members of the Hines Park Pink Panthers, a well-known Harley-Davidson group, are at every street crossing, stopping traffic for our safe crossing. They exchange their helmets for pink wigs, exchange their leather for pink scarves, exchange their toughness for tears.
Then you have your eye candy: the 60 Mile Men. The 60 Mile Men are a group of males who have walked or crewed either currently or in the past. They put together a calendar each year, with the proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. These honorable men pose seminude for this calendar. On the route, though, they are fully clothed, but their support is raw fun.
All good things must end
After 60 miles of laughing, crying and dancing, you raise your shoe to the survivors; pretty in pink, they circle the stage to raise the final flag. And that is when you realize the full impact of the 3-Day experience. The above-mentioned are only a fraction of the thousands of people who have changed your life. Although you limp away sore, tired and sweaty, it is their stories, their cheers, their tears that fill your heart with hope, with faith — a true reward.