Don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.
Arriving at the stadium, we check our weekend gear and listen to the opening ceremonies. My teammates and I are dressed in Wonder Woman attire — 10 of us in red or blue capes, yellow armbands and a Wonder Woman headband, like Lynda Carter’s in the 1970s TV show. The primary colors stand out in the throng of pink boas, tiaras, and tutus. Scanning the crowd, my eyes tear when reading the “in memory of” T-shirts with pictures of spouses, mothers, grandmothers, and children. For a split second, I imagine my kids and husband wearing cotton T-shirts adorned with my face, and my heart pounds in my chest.
Three thousand walkers surround us, each affected by cancer. Our nametags hang from colored lanyards. Those of us with pink lanyards are survivors. The remaining walkers wear blue. For most of my life, I have associated pink with ballerinas and Barbie; today, I embrace this pale pink lanyard. My fingers run the length of it, reminding me I belong to a sisterhood that has faced their own mortality and endured.
I motion to my 10 friends to gather for a group picture. Team Wonder Women is oddly quiet. I realize they are all feeling contemplative and excited at the same time, like I am. My smile feels forced, my eyes watery. I swallow hard, my voice faltering as I thank each of them for what we are about to do. I am one blink away from an ugly cry. Observing the teary faces of these women I love, I realize I have known some of them for more than 30 years.
We are here to make a difference. Families, friends, colleagues and even strangers sponsored Team Wonder Women. One hundred percent of our donations will benefit The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. We are here to give back, to celebrate life after cancer — my life after cancer treatment. Inside my scarred chest are tissue expanders, wonky in shape, stretching my skin. My third and final surgery is weeks away; I will have the tissue expanders removed and breast implants inserted. I notice other women survivors in all shapes, sizes and ages. I take in the compression sleeves, bald heads, and wigs. One woman is on oxygen, another in a wheelchair. All are about to walk 60 kilometers over two days. We are Wonder Women: walkers and warriors.
My friends are apprehensive; a few doubt their physical ability to walk the distance over the weekend ahead. Some of us have trained extensively, and others not at all. We are equipped with gently broken-in running shoes, sweat-resistant socks, bandages, extra socks, and sunscreen tucked in fanny packs. We are as ready as we are ever going to be.
I stifle a yawn. Last night, I lay in bed watching the lightning light up my room, listening to the heavens open up. I prayed that the rain would end before we began our walk this morning. The idea of soggy feet weighed on me. I had participated in this charity event 10 years ago. My sister and I walked to honor our grandmothers, who had battled lung cancer. One won; the other lost. I was out of shape, a new mom with a one- and three-year-old. Somehow, my feet managed to stay intact. The first-aid stations were jammed with people needing foot care. Nasty blisters, cuts, chafing — the memory was painful. I was fortunate.
Exiting the stadium, we spill out onto the wet streets of Toronto. We begin our walk. It has stopped raining!
As we walk through the distinct neighborhoods of Toronto, we meet Indian dancers on Gerard, Chinese dragon dancers in Chinatown, steel-drum players, bands, singers, belly dancers — all cultural representations of our great city. We are welcomed by community lemonade stands and kids handing out treats and water. A smiling woman sprays us with sunscreen in High Park. Then there is the “weekend crew,” who make every traffic light memorable. Paul, in particular, a passionate volunteer, quotes Nelson Mandela and other inspirational speakers as we stretch our legs. Listening to his words, we feel a surge of pride as he reminds us that we are indeed making a difference. The light turns green, and off we go.
As Team Wonder Women passes pedestrians or people driving cars, we see faces light up. We hear cheers. “Go Super Girls!” “Go Wonder Women!” “Great costumes!” It pumps us up, and we feel like superheroes knowing we are helping women to avoid chemo, radiation or an invasive surgery. We put one step in front of the other.
Blisters form. Someone complains of a rash. There are a couple of bug bites, sore joints, and fatigued feet, but the team keeps going. Walking to raise money for cancer research, we are reminded that these minor irritants are insignificant. Onwards!
On Day 2, we reminisce as we walk through the east end of the city where some of us had apartments and our first homes, where a few got married, where we all danced and drank too much, where we mended broken hearts, and where we had our babies. This meandering through Toronto represents my life, my history, my youth, motherhood, and marriages. Today, it reminds me of my diagnosis, treatment and success. I am here, seeing this city through a new lens.
I smell the ripe aroma emanating from the sewage treatment plant at Ashbridge’s Bay close to where I used to take the kids for walks along the boardwalk when they were little. I would never have imagined then that, in the future, I would be on the same path dressed like Wonder Woman (without the breasts), walking toward a goal that I desperately needed to accomplish. This charity walk was something I had planned while undergoing chemo. It kept me hopeful and allowed me to fixate on health, moving toward physical and mental renewal.
I hear a bumblebee and the honking of a distant car. Someone yells that the end is near. We are close to the stadium. The CN Tower shoots up into the sky, beckoning.
We lock arms, trying to awkwardly coordinate our gait in unison. It is hot, and the sun is beating down on our exhausted bodies. Sweat-drenched and parched, I am weary, yet giddy. I am ready to walk across the finish line with my beautiful friends who have shared this time with me. I admire them all.
The loudspeaker announces, “TEAM WONDER WOMEN!” One more step, and we cross the finish line together. I see my family waiting. Flowers and love ahead.
I break down and cry.
— Kristen Knott —