The Susan G. Komen 3-Day® community is known as a warm, welcoming family, embracing new participants and nurturing relationships with vets and newbies alike. It’s also not uncommon for actual families to participate together, usually in honor or in memory of loved ones. At the Komen 3-Day in Dallas/Fort Worth this year, I had the pleasure to meet a couple of these families and hear about how the 3-Day® has impacted their lives.
Kristi B.’s family didn’t have a strong connection to breast cancer, but that all changed when her father was diagnosed with the disease in the early 2000s. “It was a real shock [when my dad was diagnosed]. We had never really experienced breast cancer. Both my grandmothers had had breast cancer, but I was so young, I wasn’t really involved in it. It was just a shock to find out our father had it.”
Sadly, Kristi’s dad passed away in 2005, and shortly after that, her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease had gotten too close too many times. “At that point, I started walking.”
The Dallas/Fort Worth walk this year is Kristi’s fifth walk (she’s also crewed and volunteered). She walks not only in memory of her dad and in honor of her sister who was diagnosed in 2006, but also for her other sister who battled breast cancer just last year.
This year’s event has another special importance to Kristi’s family: her 17-year-old son, Eli, is walking alongside her for the first time.
Eli was a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Youth Corps for the past two years, and this year decided to walk it with his mom. “It’s a real bonding experience,” Kristi said. “I’ve been around him when he did the Youth Corps, and my older son crewed here a few years ago, so having them here and experience this with me, it brings us closer together.”
I asked Kristi what, after five years, still inspires her about the 3-Day. We smiled when Eli immediately pointed to himself. Kristi confirmed, “Every year I tell myself I’m not walking again, it’s just too much, but this year, he wanted to do it. So he’s why I’m here.”
Naturally, I wanted Eli’s perspective as well, about how walking was different from his time on Youth Corps. “I’ve experienced more, I’ve gotten to know the other walkers a lot better.” And of course, I needed the story behind his vibrant and frilly tutu. “It was my fundraiser for the 3-Day. We had a Facebook group set up called ‘Put Eli in a Tutu.’ We had over 900 followers. If I made the fundraising requirement, I’d have to wear a tutu all 3 days. And I made it.” I was quick to acknowledge that it is a fabulous tutu, and pointed out that Eli didn’t seem uncomfortable in it. He laughed, “It’s not too bad, it’s actually keeping me warm a little bit!”
Kristi and Eli
Not long after talking with Kristi and Eli, I heard another remarkable example of how the 3-Day brings people together. Renee R., a Dallas-area local, has been walking in the 3-Day for six years, two cities each year (and three in 2013!). Renee has five sisters, who are spread out all over the country, and although she first got involved with the 3-Day as a way to honor her sister Robin—a stage IV survivor who lives in Las Vegas—it was her relationship with her youngest sister, Jill, that was profoundly affected because of the 3-Day last year.
Renee shared, “Jill lives in Chicago, and I was going to do the Chicago 3-Day last year.” She stops, choked up for a moment. “We hadn’t seen each other in forty years.”
Renee describes her family as “a blended family that didn’t stay blended.” But as she prepared to travel to Chicago last year, Renee came across Jill’s email address, hidden within a group message to the whole family. and sent her a message: “I wrote, ‘If I walk the 3-Day in Chicago, will you consider having lunch with me?’ And she said ‘no, I want more than that.’” So Renee and two of her other sisters—Linda who lives in Pennsylvania, and Robin from Las Vegas—met up with Jill in Chicago as well, and four of the six the sisters were reunited for the first time in decades.
I marveled at how, despite all living so far from each other, five of the sisters were together here in Dallas. Renee assured me, “Now they want to follow me wherever I go to walk the 3-Day. So the 3-Day really brought us together.” Robin was not able to make the trip out from Vegas, but the other five women insist that they’ll get all six of them together eventually. In the meantime, they celebrate and honor Robin, as well as the oldest sister, Diane, who was also diagnosed in February.
“The 3-Day brings people together. This is my pink family— ” Renee indicates her team, Angels for the Cure, who are sitting nearby—“We stay together during the off season, celebrate birthdays. But the 3-Day brought my actual family together too. If it wasn’t for the 3-Day, I wouldn’t have gone to Chicago,” Renee says, hugging Jill and filling that forty year absence as if no time had passed at all.
Renee (center) and her sisters. Jill, her youngest sister whom she hadn’t seen in 40 years, is second from the left.