Survivors

Cycle 2, day 15. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my sisters-in-law, who traveled this path before me, started to refer to me as a survivor. I didn’t get it at the time, since I’d only just been diagnosed and hadn’t survived anything more than the shock of the diagnosis — no surgeries, no treatment, no side effects. I’m starting to get it now.

Yesterday, I spent the day with 18,000 other survivors, caregivers, family, and friends at the Making Strides Walk sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I signed up for the walk in a fit of positivity at the beginning of this journey, not having a clue about what was in front of me, and hoping for the best in terms of my ability to be upright and walking when the walk date arrived. Friends and family and friends of friends contributed more than $700 to the total of $680,000 raised for cancer treatment and research.

As the date drew nearer, and our team, aptly named “We Got This!” (they wouldn’t let me have “Fuck Cancer” since it was a family friendly event), assembled — me, my husband, three close friends, my daughter and her boyfriend — I wasn’t at all sure I would be up for walking. Given the vagaries of chemo side effects, I had good days and really bad ones, and once my chemo schedule was revised, I knew that yesterday would be a crap shoot at best.

But, as luck would have it, the gods aligned, I had a turnaround two days before the walk, and I felt strong and ready, buoyed by my family and friends. The 38-degree weather did not hamper our spirits one bit. It was a 5K walk-at-your-own-pace “race” and I figured that since I’d been walking at least 30-45 minutes on good days, I was good for the first lap. My daughter and I headed to the registration tent, gave them our team name, and checked in. When the woman at the desk looked at me, said “Oh, you’re a survivor!” and the whole tent erupted in applause, I could not hold back the tears. Wow… I guess I am.

I was asked to go to the “survivor’s tent” where I was fully stickered and tee-shirted and asked to sign a quilt with my name and years of survival. I wrote “Janet – 0 Years.”  I look forward to being able to write an actual number in years to come. In the end, I managed the full 5K, realizing halfway through the first lap that I could do it. It didn’t hurt to have my surgeon, who was also walking, run up to me and give me a hug as we started the race. Damn, I have a great team.

It felt pretty damn great to be in a sea of pink, surrounded by other survivors from all walks of life, embracing this disease with kindness, humor, and grace. I am proud to be a survivor.

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