Racing for the Cure

Racing for the Cure

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Racing for the Cure

It’s all right to cry, but not for too long. I made it, and so can you.

Betty Ford

As a result of God’s grace, the love and support of my family and friends, and the skill of a talented team of doctors, I am about to celebrate my eleventh year of survivorship. I fully expect to live to see my children graduate from high school and college, get married, and have their own children. I am overjoyed.

In 1995, my doctor said words I could hardly comprehend: “Mrs. Callahan, I am very sorry to tell you that you have breast cancer.” I was forty-two years old, with no history of breast cancer in my family. The pea-sized lump that I found during a self-exam had not even shown up on a mammogram.

I talked to my doctor for an hour, taking copious notes. When the conversation was over, I was stunned to see that I’d written down only a few words. I later realized that she had explained the diagnosis over and over again, but I just couldn’t absorb the information. For days I held the paper in my hand—not to read the scant information, but to hold the proof that cancer was really happening to me and I was not dreaming. I still have that piece of paper.

However, in June 1995, a month after surgery, my spiritwas temporarily occupying that dark place between hoping that I would fully recover and knowing that I would. I decided to walk in the National Race for the Cure, which takes place every June in Washington, D.C.

My husband, two children and extended family joined me in the race. We drove to the nearest metro station. As we approached it, I noticed a stream of people walking toward the station entrance and was surprised the metro was so busy on an early Saturday morning. Moments later, I realized that all of these people were wearing Race for the Cure T-shirts. When we stepped into the subway car, race participants were sitting in every seat. Even though the station was on the outskirts of the subway line, there was standing room only. Most of the T-shirts were white (runner or walker), with a sprinkling of pink (survivors) and yellow (volunteers).

We exited the subway and walked toward the starting line on Constitution Avenue. As we cleared the tall buildings near the exit subway station, I was overwhelmed by the panoramic view of the starting line. There were 50,000 race participants that year. Nearly all were wearing “In Memory Of” or “In Celebration Of” placards on their backs. Somehow, I felt they were all there for me. My eyes wouldn’t stop tearing.

Many racers were part of teams. There were teams from countries around the world, from corporations around the nation, and from schools around the Washington area. Each team carried a sign or a banner announcing its presence. There were Girl Scouts, military personnel, college students and babies in strollers. There were also the survivors, all proudly wearing pink—some robustly running at top speed, some being pushed in wheelchairs.

I happened to be assigned race number 409. During the race, the yellows were on the sidelines yelling, “Go 409!” and “Good going, 409!” I received high-fives from pinks, whites and yellows. When I finished the race, a loud speaker blasted to all 50,000 participants, “409 just crossed the finish line! Congratulations, 409!” I finished the race exhilarated with encouragement and hope.

After the race, my sister Maggie and I were chatting while waiting for the closing ceremony to begin. I saw my dear friend, Ginny, walk by with her family. She was also wearing pink—we had made our cancer journey together, and we greeted each other, laughing and crying. We were incredulous that we had bumped into each other in the midst of the tremendous crowd. When she walked away, Maggie and I saw the placard that she wore on her back. It said, “In Celebration of My Friend Ellen Callahan.” Maggie and I hugged each other and cried.

I have participated in the race every year since 1995. Sometimes I wear pink, sometimes yellow, but I always cry. And Ginny and I somehow manage to find each other every year. Last year over 70,000 walkers, runners and volunteers came to the race. The race continues to nurture my hope and confidence in the future.

I am truly blessed.

Ellen Ann Callahan

This essay is dedicated to my courageous friend and fellow survivor, Ginny Westrick.

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