I didn’t mean to write a 2,000 word post, but I couldn’t keep this story inside – I had to retell the whole day for you, for me, for posterity. If you wanna know Why I Quit, just know I walked 24 miles with my team in 11 hours the first day and skip down to after the Tired Feet pic.
4:15 am on Saturday came quickly, yet without as much drag as I was anticipating. I put on my tank top, my cropped workout pants, my cushy socks, my Reeboks, my hot pink Reebok/Avon long sleeve shirt, my new Survivor hat (hey – I deserved the extra attention), put on my contacts and washed my face and brushed my teeth and put on a lil’ bit o’ make-up, packed my sunscreen and World Domination Summit water bottle into my already-packed Avon 10 Years bag, kissed my husband, confirmed “Ready?” to my Mom and bestie, called a car service, and walked into the darkness, thankful for the warm air and the 50+ degree temperatures.
We got into the car and asked how much it would cost to get to 44th and 12th. “$100”, the driver joked. I responded, “We’re going to walk 40 miles for breast cancer. Does the guilt lower the cost a bit?” He told us the real price was $27, but he’d donate $2 to the cause, because “every bit helps.”
Indeed, sir. Indeed.
We zoomed across the bridges and up the highway, arriving to the Pier about 45 minutes before the Opening Ceremony was to start. We waited for our last teammate, my dear friend Harley, to arrive with our team shirts (lovingly designed by Kat). We put them on over our long sleeves, feeling true to Team Awesome. We ate waffles, drank coffee, signed a huge lit-up tower, and hugged a lot.
(from l-r: my bestie Lisa, me, my dear friend Harley & my Mom sometime around 6 am)
We made our way to the stage when we knew the Opening Ceremony was beginning, and the waterworks came fast and furious. We heard we raised $8.3 million to help find a cure and treat women who’d otherwise be unable to afford it. We heard from those who were walking for their Moms, their aunts, their uncles, themselves. I raised both hands when the crowd was asked to do so if they were a survivor, and my team raised both of their hands when the crowd was asked if they were touched directly by breast cancer. We then clasped our hands together in a circle, cried some more, and started walking.
It was 6:45 am.
It was still dark.
We walked past the Intrepid, past Grant’s Tomb, all the way up Riverside Park to the West 140s, watching the sky get lighter, enjoying the themed rest stops, gabbing away with each other, shedding our long sleeves and applying the sunscreen (yes, I bossed around everyone to put some on their arms and faces) under the 63 degree sun. We came down Broadway, stopped for lunch at 11 a.m, made our way over to the tents set-up in the park, and found a photographer snapping away. I gathered my team and we smiled together with our arms around each other, until I could tell the photographer was just taking some of me. Ever the stage mother, my Mom told him that I was our “star”, and he responded, “I’m drawn to that hat.” He asked how long I’ve been a survivor, and I told him an abbreviated version of my story and timeline. He told me he’s been at this Avon walk for a few years, and told me about his wife and her mother, who were survivors with double-digit years in front of them.
“I like hearing stories like that. We need more of them.”
I used The Cancer Card to score a hummus wrap even though I didn’t have a green wristband signaling that I’m a vegetarian (“I’m not a vegetarian,” I explained, “but I haven’t eaten deli meat since my diagnosis in November…” “Take the sandwich” was the response). We sat down for the first time since we arrived that morning, marveling over the 9 miles we walked already, but how we didn’t know that we were going so slowly. We felt like we were at our usual clip – 3-4 miles/hour – but yet we were only averaging about 2. We blamed the fact that we were at the back of a bottleneck when the walk started, and all the traffic lights we had to stop at, and all the water we were drinking which made us stop at every rest stop to pee and fill our water bottles back up. (When Luke offered us water that night at dinner, my Mom exclaimed, “F***king water!”)
We were back on the road, about a half-hour behind the “deadline” the walk gives you if you want to finish all 26.2 miles before dark. We walked past Lincoln Center and through Hells Kitchen until we reached Quick Stop C, where we knew Jena was waiting. Jena was a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen since I graduated (that’s 16 years ago, if you’re counting), yet through the power of Facebook she knew I was walking, I knew she was crew-ing, and we made sure to find each other.
She must’ve been waiting for us a long while, but it was like she knew we were just around the corner. We saw her half a block away waiting at the entrance for us, and when she saw us she came flying. We hugged and sobbed fairly violently, and then we let go and she gave Lisa an equally big hug (she knew Lisa from high school, too). She then unrolled a sign she made for us “after I graded my student’s math tests”, and we sobbed some more, taking pictures and talking about the day and trying to jam 16 years into 16 minutes.
It made me feel happy for every friend I had cheered on and made a sign for while they were running (half-) marathons. Seeing that sign, having that support, seeing this old friend, knowing the importance of what we were doing….it was the highlight of my day, quite honestly, and gave us our second (or was it third or fourth by that time?) wind.
We were still running behind, and did our best to pick up our pace through the half-marathon mark at mile 13, and in hindsight, we should have stopped there, should have taken up the coordinator who offered us rides to the Brooklyn Bridge, should have had brunch and went home to rest up for the next day. Instead, I looked at my team and said, “We’re walking, right?!” They nodded, ever my supporters, and we walked down to Chelsea, through Soho, through Lisa’s fear of bridges and into Brooklyn. We made our way to the Manhattan Bridge and saw my husband and stepfather at the base, waiting to cross with us. It was mile 17.34 then, and they saw our exhaustion and heard about our pain but also saw the fire in our eyes, and they let us keep going when we reached the other side.
We took First Avenue up, through the East Village, passing 2nd Street and knowing we had 100 blocks to go. While we weren’t staying in the tents on Randalls Island (we are all Jewish girls from Long Island, and nothing appealed to us less than sleeping in a tent in the middle of October after walking 26 miles, thankyouverymuch), I was determined to go as far as the footbridge on 102nd Street.
We walked through Gramercy and hit the UN. We were still 30 minutes behind the deadline, and we noticed blocks and blocks prior that we had trouble getting on and off curbs. I stretched at every rest stop. Our pace slowed considerably. Harley turned to me before Mile 22 and said gently, “I want to be able to walk tomorrow. I’m going home.” She got in the Avon van and I yelled, “Great job, Harley! Woo hoo!”
My Mom, my bestie and I kept walking uptown, past the UN, past Mile Marker 22. I realized we started 10 hours prior. I was still determined to finish, and they humored me to keep going even though I can tell we were past our breaking points. After Mile Marker 23, I turned to them and said, “Is this nuts? Should we call it already?” My Mom said, “Yes. Let’s call it.” I said, “Let’s go to the next mile marker, and then we’ll be done.” Once Lisa told Mom that we’ve already walked most of the mile, she agreed.
We got to Mile Marker 24 at 5:45pm. We were supposed to meet Harley and her family for dinner right around where we were, but we knew we weren’t going to be able to get up once we sat down, and decided to get in a cab and order delivery at home instead. We broke from the pack (yes, we were slow, but there were people behind us – the crossing guard yelled, “Don’t follow them!), crossed the street, got into a cab, and gave him my address. Lisa shut her eyes and we were quiet for most of the ride back to Brookyn.
Every where we walked flew past us in the cab. It seemed like a waste to walk all that way to just drive back to where you were 3 hours prior, in a way.
The cab stopped outside my building and I almost fell getting out. My legs didn’t want to support my anymore. I walked bowl-legged to my door, passing a woman who, when she saw us, exclaimed, “The Avon Walk is today?” and I responded, “And tomorrow, too!” She told us we were doing a great job. We thanked her, limping.
It was dark by the time we got into the apartment, but we didn’t turn on the lights. Lisa rolled onto my fold-out couch in the fetal position, and I laid down beside her, and Mom crawled in beside me. We had a giggle fit, laughing hard at everything and anything – our criddledom, why anyone signs up to do this to themselves, how on earth we thought we were going to sit down to a formal dinner, how Luke and Chuck will come into the apartment to find us in bed in the living room in the dark.
(Tired feet from l-r: Lisa’s feet, my feet, Mom’s feet)
We ordered Italian. We ate it in bed. We drank tea. We elevated our feet. We used cold packs all over our legs. We told Luke and Chuck about our day. They told us about theirs. Chuck lovingly laughed at our condition. Luke got us anything we wanted. I walked like an orangutan.
Yet….I kept talking about Tomorrow. Sure, I knew the 13 miles we were supposed to walk was going to be a stretch, but we can certainly do 5 or so. Right? And then the Closing Ceremony? And then brunch? Right?
There must’ve been a conversation when I was in the shower, because I felt like there was an Intervention when I came out. My Mom set it up for Luke to talk to me about his concern, and he looked at me with those loving eyes of his and told me how I’ve put my body through too much already. About how it was less than a month since my last surgery. About how I’m not just like everyone else. About how I had to take care of myself. About how I shouldn’t walk at all tomorrow.
What are those stages of grief again? I think I went through them all. I was quiet as I denied it to myself, that I wasn’t special, that I could do it, that I had to. I was angry as I thought of how my training got cut short, how my boob cancer picked me, how I really wanted to and my body wasn’t allowing me. The acceptance crept in and the tears came and the anger cut back in, the sadness and the disappointment in the fact that It’s Not Over. I think that, subconsciously, I had in my head that this walk was The End of boob cancer for me. The cancer’s definitely gone, the surgeries are all over, now let’s-walk-39.3-miles-and-get-on-with-our-lives, right?
I think what I realized is that – as much as I wanted to put this behind me and how much I was optimistically looking forward – I’m still raw. That as much as I’m normalizing and coming back to My Usual Life, I’m still healing. I’m still angry. I’m still sad. I’m still stressed and fearful and shaken. I still have to deal with what the boob cancer left behind both mentally and physically, and I need to be nicer to my body and take good, deep, real care of myself. I can’t pretend that my body is at 100% because it’s not, and it’s not fair of me to make it act like it is. I was in schmemo just 6 months ago, had my Boobal Removal only 5 months ago, and my final surgery one month ago. Things are not all clear in this body of mine.
I cried and cried that night, not being able to help feeling sad and angry and disappointed. I knew right to my core that it was the best, right decision – not just for me but for the rest of my team – but it was still tough to come to terms with. I did my best life coach-y reframe and felt better when I viewed it as a conscious choice to rest, to celebrate just with my team, to acknowledge all we did (it was so much!), to toast to family and friendship and love and the support that one person gives to another. But still, there were plenty of “I should have known better”s and “Why didn’t anyone try to stop me?” and “It’s just not fair!”
So, we slept ’til 9:15a and had coffee on that living room bed in our pjs. We hobbled around to get dressed and met Harley and her family at my favorite neighborhood restaurant. We had a round of mimosas and shed some more tears and acknowledged all we did and how far we had come. We hugged and saw everyone to their cars and cabs and Luke and I went back home.
The rest of the day was spent with pictures, with updates, with being on the verge of tears or letting them spill. While there’s no doubt that we accomplished so (so!) much – so much – I feel like boob cancer took away that Finish Line from me, that Closing Ceremony, that We Did It! picture in addition to my breasts and my close-to-last childbearing years. And I realize:
This will always be my fight now.
I will fight for myself, I will fight for my family, I will fight for my friends, I will fight for my future children (there are times I wish I won’t ever have a girl, so we wouldn’t ever have to be scared of this, and then I cry). I will do this walk each and every year. I will sell T-shirts and sing ukulele ditties and do fundraising shows and donate part of my salary each and every year to the walk, raising the bar higher and higher each and every time. This year, thanks to so much generosity, Team Awesome raised over $17,000 (we still have unaccounted-for funds – I think the total will be close to $17,500) for the Avon Foundation for Women. Just 5 ladies (my Aunt raised money but was unable to walk) made a huge difference, and that was valid whether we walked 39.3 miles or 0 miles.
So next year, we walk. We aim for 39.3 miles, but really…who cares? We’ll do whatever we can to participate in Day 2, to walk with the Participant Processional, to cry amongst thousands of others and know how much we achieved. Then we’ll do it again the next year, and the next, and the next.
We fight with our legs, we fight with our wallets, we fight with our words, but regardless…we fight.