Meet Gwen, a Survivor

Seven years ago, Gwen W., from Kirkland, Washington, had a feeling something was wrong. “It wasn’t a lump, but I had some discharge from my nipple,” Gwen said. She went to the doctor, and even though a mammogram and ultrasound didn’t show anything, she was sent to a surgeon. The surgeon did several tests and Gwen was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer. “I’m a seven year cancer survivor, and I’m so fortunate to even be able to say that.”

This is Gwen’s first time joining the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, and she walks for everyone cancer has taken away. “My sister had a really hard struggle with stage four breast cancer. And last year, she lost that battle. My brother died of prostate cancer four years ago, and in my 20s, my mom got cancer and she died. Cancer is such a horrible disease and has taken a lot from our family, and I wanted to give back.”

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During Gwen’s treatment, she was a single mom with three kids. “I didn’t have to have chemo, but I did have to have radiation. I worked every day and my kids took care of me, and we made it a fun thing,” said Gwen. Gwen explains, “A mom is worried about how her children are going to be affected by this. When I got home after the surgery, I looked at my breasts. (After my surgery) I had a round circle, and a line, and we ended up calling them ‘Wink’. Even now, we laugh about Wink.”

Gwen went through 31 weeks of treatment, and at the end of treatment, she found herself struggling with depression. The counselor suggested Gwen take some time off. Gwen initially struggled with the idea of taking time off. “I’m just really a ‘do this, do that’ type of person, don’t worry about yourself – but I took some time off, and it was the best thing I could do. It isn’t weakness to take time off. It’s taking care of your body and doing what you need to do to heal. And that’s what I needed to do to heal.”

Gwen, with the help of her children and coworkers, crafted this skirt listing all the names of those she walks in honor and memory of.

Gwen, with the help of her children and coworkers, crafted this skirt listing all the names of those she walks in honor and memory of.

A large part of Gwen’s healing came from the support all around her, and Gwen’s eyes light up as she tells me about her children. Gwen has three children, her oldest, Emily, is 24 years old and volunteering at the Seattle 3-Day, her son, Michael is 21 years old and watching the family dog this weekend, and her daughter, Beth, is 18 and also helped Gwen with her ribbon skirt. As a new member to the 3-Day family, Gwen describes the incredible role that her children had not only in helping her through her diagnosis and treatment, but also in preparing for the 3-Day. As Gwen recalls her 31 weeks of treatment, she says, “It was a very difficult time, but my kids kept me going. With all of my heart. They are so amazing. They’re just amazing kids, and I want them to have a life they love. And I don’t want it to be stopped by cancer. They needed a mom. I needed to survive. I needed to win and get through it.”

Gwen’s positivity is obvious in all of the ways she discusses the challenges her diagnosis presented, and even as she discusses her first 3-Day experience, positivity radiates from her friendly smile. Beyond the very personal connection to breast cancer, Gwen said, “I like what the 3-Day stands for. The challenge of raising $2,300 was honestly part of the adventure and growth for me.”

Gwen mostly used social media for her fundraising, and said that she really loved engaging her community and inviting them to be a part of her journey by supporting her through her fundraising efforts. While Gwen says she had a late start with training, she found a lot of support from her workplace, which organized weekly walks, and at one point, she was walking in her neighborhood so much that “even the police officer recognized me in Kirkland!” Gwen also posted her training miles on Facebook for accountability and to let people know, “Hey, I’m in the game!”

As Gwen heads out of the lunch stop, she flashes a friendly, megawatt smile, ready to take on the remaining 12 miles of the day. Please join us in welcoming Gwen and all of our new 3-Day walkers and crew. We are so happy to welcome you to the 3-Day, and we’ll forever be grateful for your dedication to fighting breast cancer, because everyone deserves a lifetime.

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The Philadelphia Susan G. Komen 3-Day Wrap Up

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The Philadelphia Susan G. Komen 3-Day® began against a beautiful pink sunrise at the Willow Grove Park Mall. As Dr. Sheri rallied the energetic crowd, excitement buzzed around as we prepared to embark on our 60-mile journey. In the midst of a touching and inspirational moment, a V-shaped formation of geese flew directly over the Opening Ceremony, honking loudly as the crowd burst into applause. (Some said it was an omen of good luck as the Walkers and Crew prepared for a rousing Day 1.)

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Walkers enjoyed a cloud-covered sky and cool breezes to Pit Stop 1 and Pit Stop 2, decked out in awesome themes like Flashback to the 80s — complete with jelly bracelets and lots of neon. After snacks, stretching, bathroom breaks and hydration at the Pit Stops, it was on to the Chestnut Hill Cheering Station, which rallied on our walkers at Mile 9.7. The remainder of the day took walkers through Philly’s picturesque neighborhoods, including lunch at New Covenant Church, a winding walk through the lush, green Wassahickon Trail and Historic Rittenhouse, and then finally, to the Philadelphia Art Museum Steps, where walkers posed victoriously, with inspiration from a famous scene from Rocky. Walkers headed home toward camp at the Philadelphia Convention Center, where we congratulated our top fundraisers, and were inspired to take on Day 2 by Dr. Richard Bleicher from the Fox Chase Cancer Center and survivor Joanne Bidwell.

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Day two started with a chill in the air, and walkers strolled to Memorial Hall at Mile 3.3, posing for photos in the striking Fairmount Park. A cheering station in Bala Cynwyd helped our 3-Day family set the tone for the day, complete with clusters of pink balloons, dogs in tutus, and candy and coffee stations to put a pep in everyone’s step. Then, it was on to the Haverford College Duck Pond, where ducks and geese floated serenely across the pond, and walkers stopped to have lunch on a grassy slope, a perfect break for tired feet. The community came out again to show their support at the Penn Wynne Elementary School Cheering Station, and in the early afternoon, liquid sunshine began pouring from the sky. Walkers donned ponchos and headed onward to Pit Stop 3 at Gompers Elementary School, still managing to smile despite the pouring rain. Walkers were greeted to another beautiful sight at Boathouse Row, just in time for the rain to stop as they completed 22.3 miles and arrived home to camp. Camp was cozy and dry, the perfect setting for a rallying show, complete with games from Bank of America, an introduction to the Youth Corps, a heartfelt speech from survivor Marieke Ertel, and a moving speech from series walker Melissa Provence. While rain may have dampened the route on Day 2, the overwhelming feeling of pride, hope, and love for Philadelphia could not be shaken.

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Walkers began Day 3 against some cool temperatures, which lifted mid-morning to reveal a perfect day, complete with a stunning blue sky, occasional breezes, and the shining sun. At Mile 1.3, walkers posed at the oldest residential neighborhood in America, Elfreth’s Alley, dating to 1702. The historic sights continued past Independence Hall, which houses the Liberty Bell, and then the beautiful Philadelphia City Hall, three miles in.

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Walkers powered through their fatigue with the uplifting chants of the Philly community in the Thomas Paine Plaza, and then it was onward to another Philly-centric photo opp – the dueling intersection with both Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks, two famous eateries applauded for their authentic cheese steaks. Some walkers stopped for a bite to fuel their last few miles, which brought them past Lincoln Field, and then finally, into the Closing Ceremony site at the Navy Yard. As our walkers and crew marched into the courtyard, the blue sky was in beautiful contrast to a sea of pink, and Dr. Sheri, Norm, and some of our series walkers reminded us of the amazing significance of the Philly 3-Day. As our walkers raised their shoes to the sky, we all smiled with tears in our eyes, so very proud and moved by the incredible contributions of the 1,350 Philadelphia walkers and 300 crew, who together raised over $3.8 million dollars toward the fight to end breast cancer forever. Philadelphia, thanks to you, we’re 60 miles closer toward a world without breast cancer. We will never give up!

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51 Miles, 51 Years of Marriage: Meet Dennis and Sandy

For Susan G. Komen 3-Day® participants, Day 3 is a big deal. You’ve collectively raised millions of dollars to help end breast cancer. You’ve slept in pink tents. You’ve eaten countless grahamwiches, quenched your thirst with sports drink, cried at the camp show speeches, and showered on a truck. You’ve met amazing new friends and bonded with the old ones. You’ve proven your incredible dedication to working toward a world without breast cancer. And, let’s not forget that you’ve walked an average of 20 miles each day; some walkers reach this point feeling victorious and undefeated, others feel exhausted and ready to quit. But you don’t quit. You keep going. You put one foot after the other, you lean on others for support, maybe you take a quick ride in a sweep van, because you know that by being there, just by being at the 3-Day, your presence means making a very real impact on somebody else’s life.

Dennis and Sandy M. are similar to their fellow Komen 3-Day walkers, but for them, Day 3 on this year’s Philadelphia 3-Day® wasn’t just Day 3. It was their 51st wedding anniversary, and we talked to them this weekend to learn a few lessons about the many ways that their marriage has been just like the 3-Day.

Dennis and Sandy McGee celebrated 51 years of Marriage on Day 3 of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day

Dennis and Sandy McGee celebrated 51 years of Marriage on Day 3 of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day

Sandy and Dennis met when they were teenagers; Sandy was 16 and Denny was nine days shy of turning 18. It was the summer of 1962. Sandy recalls, “On a Saturday night, my cousin invited me to go on a babysitting job with her and meet the guy who my cousin fancied, who lived downstairs. When we met, we both liked each other and started seeing each other on the weekends and talking on the phone.” Dennis bought her an engagement ring for Christmas, and they were married on September 14, 1963.

Like many newlyweds, the start of their marriage had a few trying times. “We were very poor and only had six wedding gifts, three of which we could not use. One, as I recall, was a shower curtain, and the apartment we rented had no shower, just a tub,” Sandy laughs. “We had some really hard times. We didn’t have much of anything. What we did have was each other and our family.”

After five years of marriage, Sandy was pregnant with Tammy, their first daughter, and Dennis had been drafted into the army. He was wounded in July of 1969 and came close to death. “He is my hero, and the most humble man I know. He is my best friend,” said Sandra.

Four and a half decades later, these best friends decided to walk the 3-Day after seeing the passion that their daughter Tammy had about her 3-Day experience. “When she speaks of the women she has met while walking, her eyes just light up. After I heard her speak at a fundraiser, I said to myself, ‘I want to know that passion, I want to meet those women,’” said Sandy. Sandy and Tammy walked together in the Tampa Bay 3-Day last year and Dennis, even though he wasn’t registered to walk, trained with Sandy and Tammy, logging over 500 training miles. This year, he decided to walk the 3-Day. “I figured if I was going that far, I should do the walk and get credit for it,” said Dennis. We caught up with Tammy, who has been married for 22 years herself, and she said “Every day they just want to spend more time together. They still hold hands. All during our training walks, they hold hands.”

Dennis found this rose on Day 2 of the 3-Day, and carried it from the final pit stop to camp where his darling Sandy was waiting.

Dennis found this rose on Day 2 of the 3-Day, and carried it from the final pit stop to camp where his darling Sandy was waiting.

How exactly, is 51 years of marriage like the 3-Day? “Well, in marriage as well as in the walk, you just keep going and supporting each other even when the going gets tough and the end seems so far off,” said Dennis. “Sometimes it’s just one foot after the other, and sometimes you are having so much fun you don’t even know you’re walking or how far you have walked. Our marriage is like that,” said Sandy. “Just keep walking. It’s going to be not so fun sometimes, then boom – the very best time you’ve ever had happens.”

Sandy and Dennis both said that a good marriage is about always treating each other with respect and kindness. “When people ask me where the better half is at, my answer is that there is no better half in our relationship. We are fully equals. You get back what you put out,” said Dennis. Their equality is obvious when Sandy replies with her own response, that one of the most important things in marriage is to show each other respect. “I can honestly say the first man I ever dated turned out to be my soulmate. I love him more today than I did 50 years ago.”

Sandy and Dennis at Mile 51 of the Philly 3-Day, celebrating 51 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of their daughter, Tammy S.

Sandy and Dennis at Mile 51 of the Philly 3-Day, celebrating 51 years of marriage. Photo courtesy of their daughter, Tammy S.

As they stopped at Mile 51 to celebrate 51 incredible years of marriage, the unbreakable bond between Sandy and Dennis is apparent as they lovingly embrace. At this moment, time has stopped for the couple, and here, at Mile 51, it’s all about love, endurance, and respect. As Dennis said, “The trials that you conquer together will make the relationship stronger and the commitment to each other deeper. Do not dwell on past problems and mistakes, but learn from them, and move forward as a pair.”

We were honored today to share their story; one that we can all learn from as a true lesson in endurance, teamwork, and commitment, proven to be unshakeable after 51 amazing years.

This photo shows Sandy and Dennis 10 years ago, with a favorite quote: "If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I would never have to live a day without you." -Winnie the Pooh

This photo shows Sandy and Dennis 10 years ago, with a favorite quote: “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I would never have to live a day without you.” -Winnie the Pooh