Julie’s Angels

There’s a tradition at the 3-Day: every Friday and Saturday night, one of our amazing survivors stands on stage and shares her story with a captive audience. Without a doubt, there will be tears. Sometimes there is laughter. And there’s always thunderous applause at the end. This Saturday night in Atlanta was no exception.

IMG_9907At only 36 years of age, Julie B. is one of our young survivors. She bravely took the stage and shared the details of her recent and ongoing battle.

In March 2013, Julie gave birth to her son, Harris. Because her mother and maternal grandmother had both fought and survived breast cancer years ago, and her mother was recently re-diagnosed, Julie was already planning to have a mammogram after she delivered Harris. “They say that if it runs in your family, you should have one in your 30’s.”

But Julie didn’t even have a chance to schedule that mammogram. Just one week after Harris was born, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was a surreal moment when I got the call. I was in a state of shock when I heard the news,” recounts Julie. Her mother, who was still recovering from her own recent breast cancer reconstruction surgery, was there when Julie heard the news. “She assured me that everything was going to be okay. Her positive outlook kept me strong.”

Throughout 2013, Julie endured four months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and 28 rounds of radiation. Her grandmother, a breast cancer survivor for decades, also received a second diagnosis last year. Sadly, she lost her battle in October 2013. She was in her 90’s.

By the end of last year and all of the surgeries and treatments, Julie and her doctors felt confident that they got it all. The radiation had been done only as a safety measure, to ensure there were no lingering microscopic cancer cells. But she still insisted on a PET scan, to confirm that she was cancer-free.

Though she didn’t yet have the results of her PET scan, Julie shared with her women’s group from church that as a New Year’s resolution, she had set her mind to walking the 3-Day in 2014. Being one of three generations of women in her family who had received a breast cancer diagnosis within an 11-month span, Julie knew she wanted to take action to end breast cancer. This was the action she could take; this was something she could do. And as great friends do, her women’s group quickly jumped on board and agreed to do all 60 miles with her.

Just days later, Julie received the call from her doctor with the results: there were new areas of concern. “It absolutely crushed my heart and my spirit. I felt like we had just finished a long marathon and now we were faced with another one with no break in between,” she says, choking back tears.

But in early 2014, feeling loved, protected and like she had angels all around her, Julie and her friends and family (including her mom) formed Team Julie’s Angels. “They all decided to sign up. They’re walking in my honor. I couldn’t not walk with them.”

photo 15_teamAll 16 team members are first-time 3-Day walkers and together, they’ve raised nearly $60,000. “It is a great cause to support,” encourages Julie. “The fundraising really comes so much easier than you would ever imagine. There are so many people who have a connection – it might not be something you’re aware of – but people are really touched by it. And they’ll give more than you think they will.”

photo 16

“I have gotten more out of this walk than I ever could have imagined. It has been a positive light in my life as I am continuing my breast cancer journey,” continues Julie. “After experiencing cancer myself, I knew that I wanted to make a difference for other women, especially my daughter. I don’t want Addie Bliss to have to go through this.”

To a captive audience of hundreds at the 3-Day campsite, Julie concludes her story, “I’m Julie, and I walk because I believe everyone deserves a lifetime.” And the crowd reacts with the only appropriate response: thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

The Gilbert Girls Take on Atlanta

Meet Team Gilbert Girls. They are an upbeat, beautiful, welcoming group of women who walk in the Susan G. Komen Atlanta 3-Day year after year. They all walk for some very special reasons, but their namesake is Margaret Gilbert, mother to Sara and sister to Tina. Margaret lost her battle to breast cancer in 2009 at the young age of 41.photo 7.2

Tina S., the team’s captain, has been a walker in the 3-Day for 7 years. Her teammates are no slouches either when it comes to years of participation! Cheryl S. is a 12-year veteran, and Annie B. has walked six times. What’s even more remarkable? Five of their eight team members are under the age of 20! Sara G. (17) has walked the last two years in her mother’s memory. Beth K. (17), Claire S. (17) and Jessica Z. (19) are all new to the 3-Day this year, and their eighth teammate, Caitlyn S. (18), will join them tomorrow as part of the Young Women Walking program.

Between the combination of long-time and young walkers, you might think fundraising would be challenging for the group. But Sara, Beth and Claire – the high school gals – were quick to point out that as soon as they tell people what they are doing, the support was quick to follow. It’s no surprise that these young walkers inspire others with their desire to walk 60 miles in memory of Sara’s mother.

Tina, Cheryl and Annie, the 3-Day veterans, all say that they weren’t prepared for how much fun the walk is, and that once you do it for the first time, you’ll do it again and again. As Cheryl puts it, “The cheering makes it a lot easier. There are so many people who tell you, ‘Way to go! Way to go for walking! Way to go for stretching! Way to go… for going to the bathroom!’ It’s a feel-good experience.”

photo 4

To unite them as a team, they print t-shirts each year with a different word cloud. This year’s shirts are yellow (which stand out beautifully in the sea of pink!) and bear the names of all the loved ones for whom they walk, along with some inspiring 3-Day themed words. Those meaningful names and words are in the shape of the number “60,” a very fitting number indeed.

Tina quickly explained that Jessica wasn’t wearing her team tee today – because they just adopted her to Gilbert Girls this morning. But, rest assured, she’ll be wearing her yellow shirt tomorrow.

We’re so inspired by the warm, loving family of 3-Dayers all around us; helping to reinforce what seasoned 3-Day participants always say, “On the 3-Day, there are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet.”

To our 3-Day Family: What Gives You Strength?

Every day, we’re moved by the amazing people in our Komen Family who exhibit such passionate and dedicated displays of strength. While we celebrate our 3-Day Family every day, this month, we’re highlighting what gives you strength. Together with Susan G. Komen®, we’ve asked several Susan G. Komen 3-Day® participants in Seattle (and soon in Atlanta, Dallas / Fort Worth, and San Diego) to share what gives them strength. We invite you to do the same, by commenting here on the 3-Day blog or by sharing with us on Facebook or Twitter.

Follow along on the official Susan G. Komen Facebook page to see more stories like Darrell’s: