Sixty Miles

Sixty Miles

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Sixty Miles

Isuppose if I had to choose just one quality to have, that would be it: vitality.

John F. Kennedy

When I first signed up for a sixty-mile walk to raise money for breast-cancer research, I was most excited about the personal challenge of walking twenty miles a day, sleeping in a tent and surviving three days without the comforts of home. I had been working to get in shape, and the breast-cancer walk gave me the opportunity to reach a demanding fitness goal while doing some good at the same time. It turned out to be so much more.

The first day of the event, 4,800 walkers gathered bright and early at a convention center, ready for the experience of a lifetime. Volunteers collected our luggage and sleeping bags, and told us we could retrieve them at base camp. Opening ceremonies began with walkers forming an enormous, three-layered semicircle. The first layer was open space, symbolizing the spirits of the people lost to breast cancer. The second layer was for cancer survivors. It was packed full of people in pink T-shirts, some still bald from treatment, realizing they were not alone in their fight. The outer layer, where I stood, was for people supporting the cure who had never battled cancer themselves.

We listened as speakers shared statistics and words of encouragement, and we learned, according to the American Cancer Society, that more than 182,000 women in the United States would be diagnosed with breast cancer over the next year and more than 40,000 would die. Early detection is key, as the five-year survival rate for people treated in the early stages of breast cancer is 96 percent.

Determined to save lives, our group raised more than $6,750,000 to be spent on improving access to care for underserved women and advancing cancer research. It was awe-inspiring to realize what the combined efforts of many could accomplish. After the presentations, we held hands and devoted a long moment of silence to remembering loved ones lost to breast cancer.

Motivated that we would be making a difference with every step, it was time to start our sixty-mile journey. A sea of walkers took over the roads. Volunteer motorcycle clubs helped control traffic. I’ll never forget one big, tough rider dressed in black leather, his Harley adorned with pink ribbons in honor of his wife.

I walked and walked, cried and walked. My tears flowed as I read people’s T-shirts. Many listed people in a community or church fighting cancer. Most focused on one special person, like the jerseys worn by three sisters in honor of the sister they had lost. A lot of participants had pictures of the person for whom they walked pinned to the back of their shirt. The pictures hit me the hardest, as I was forced to visualize the actual people behind the statistics. The photo that upset me the most was of a beautiful, vibrant college co-ed with a bright smile. Her picture was ironed onto the shirts of her sorority sisters, who were walking in her memory. She was only twenty-four years old when she died from breast cancer.

We treaded through poverty-stricken neighborhoods, ritzy suburbs, historic towns and city streets. I was privileged to hear so many personal stories over the miles, both tragic and inspirational. The heaviness of the journey was lightened by the huge number of survivors participating and by the great volunteers who gave us food and water at each pit stop while cheering: “2-4-6-8, hydrate! Stretch! Urinate!”

After twenty miles we arrived at our base camp on the athletic fields of a middle school. I will not lie: my feet were swollen and in pain, and I questioned if I could do this for two more days. Limping, I set up my tent and realized I was not alone. People hobbled all around me, some on crutches, some with moleskin all over their feet, some with wrapped-up knees. Then it hit. This was nothing compared to dealing with breast cancer. We all vowed to somehow get up and do it again tomorrow.

The first night was cold, and I wasn’t the most prepared camper in the group. Luckily, exhaustion allowed me to fall asleep easily. I won’t mention the details of having to use a port-a-potty at four A.M. in complete darkness, but trust me . . . I longed for indoor plumbing.

The next two days my feet blistered and my muscles ached, but the harmonious goodwill and group spirit kept me going. I met phenomenal people and was blessed to be among a mass of human kindness for seventy-two hours. By the end, the sixty miles had nothing to do with a fitness goal. It was about the cause, the memory of those who had lost their lives to breast cancer and all the innumerable survivors. Crossing our finish line felt like a triumph for all!

Sherrie Page Najarian

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