The Strength of Family on the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day

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!”

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk 60 miles blog dallas fort worth kristi eli family

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.

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk 60 miles blog dallas fort worth sisters renee reunion

Renee (center) and her sisters. Jill, her youngest sister whom she hadn’t seen in 40 years, is second from the left.

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.”

IMG_2826

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.

IMG_2831

 

 

 

First-timers on the Boston 3-Day

Everyone give a warm welcome to Cyndi, Sandy and Denise!

Cyndi Whitehead, Sandy Haynes, and Denise Vaudrin during lunch on the Boston 3-Day.

Cyndi Whitehead, Sandy Haynes, and Denise Vaudrin during lunch on the Boston 3-Day.

When Cyndi Whitehouse of Springfield, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with breast cancer 30 years ago, she probably could not foresee July 26, 2013 as her first day on a Susan G. Komen 3-Day® Series with sister Sandy Haynes and good friend Denise Vaudrin! Here they are, and being with them even for a few minutes at lunch gave me the sense of their great love for each other and of life.  Cyndi asked her sister and friend to walk with her, and they gladly said, “Yes!”

How did they remember their first day? “Ouch!” They recommend a lot of training to prepare walkers for the long days.  They also had some great ideas for fundraising, as they had a local vineyard hold a wine tasting, complete with a relabeled wine “Poppy’s Girls” (named after the sisters’ father).  It sounded like a great evening with everyone happy and interested in breast cancer research and finding a cure.

"Poppies" is a relabeled wine served for fundraising for the Boston 3-Day®

“Poppy’s Girls” is a relabeled wine served for fundraising for the Boston 3-Day®

It’s wonderful to hear that Cyndi has been doing well for 30 years! Welcome to your first Komen 3-Day, Cyndi, Sandy, and Denise!