A Journey of Strength, Purpose and Inspiration – by Guest Blogger Nikia B.

In July, Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day coach Gayla emailed me some pictures from a walk-and-talk she had just done with a first-time walker named Nikia B. The photos showed Gayla and Nikia posing with the the various Komen 3-Day posters they spotted as they enjoyed a 5+ mile stroll around a Dallas-area mall (ah, air conditioning!). Even before Gayla told me any details about Nikia or her story, I was struck by the images and Nikia’s energy. When Gayla later told me a little bit about Nikia, I knew we needed to have her tell her story – starting with her own breast cancer diagnosis at age 16, and leading all the way up to those poster photos in the mall. So we asked her, and she agreed! Prepare to be inspired by this amazing young woman.

We’re less than 90 days away from the Susan G. Komen Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day, and I could not be more excited to join the thousands of women and men who have experienced the pure magic of the Komen 3-Day. This year in particular will be special for me because it marks 20 years in my own battle against breast cancer.

In some ways it feels like only yesterday when I first encountered breast cancer at the age of 16. I’ll never forget the moment that I first felt that lump in my breast. No family history. No known patients or survivors in my life. I felt like a complete alien, and I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I simply don’t have words for the fear and grief that tried to rob me of my youth. But recently, while out walking with Dallas/Fort Worth coach Gayla, I ran across a some 3-Day® posters in our local mall that reminded me of what pulled me through my journey, and what I hope to instill into others as I walk. The words that stood out on the posters were Strength, Purpose, and Inspiration.

Strength - The truth is, none of us really know what we’re made of until we’re put into a position to prove it. At the young age of 16, I was forced to make a decision to LIVE and not let my diagnosis define what kind of life I would have. The surgery, treatment and subsequent challenges were undeniably life-defining, but not necessarily in the way you might suppose. Up until the point of my diagnosis, I let life “happen to me,” but I quickly realized how precious life was, and it made me decide that I needed to be the one to make life happen. Somewhere along the way, I found the strength to set my own course and determine what future I wanted to see. Step by step, I’m seeing it unfold, indescribably and beautifully, before my eyes!

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog nikia dallas fort worth strength

Coach Gayla (left) with Nikia, a walking, talking image of strength

 

Purpose - There’s something about staring breast cancer in the face and living through it that made me realize that nothing about life is coincidental or absent of meaning. In fact, I realized quickly that starting from the moment of my diagnosis, I could find purpose in even the most challenging moments of my journey. We all can. Purpose helps us to define and find meaning in the situations and circumstances in our lives that would otherwise make us feel hopeless. Purpose helps us to channel our emotions and frustrations when life isn’t quite going our way and reminds us that what we’re going through educates, empowers and encourages someone else. In fact, I believe our greatest purpose is only realized when we’ve helped someone else get to the place that we’ve come through.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog nikia dallas fort worth purpose

 

Inspiration - I never would have climbed out of bed on the tough days if it weren’t for something nudging me, provoking me and inspiring me to find a reason to fight to see another day. For some, it’s a child, a loved one or spouse. For others it’s a spiritual power that centers and empowers them. Whatever the source, everyone needs to find their reason to keep going – it serves as fuel for uphill journeys and marathon missions. My inspiration was a combination of my faith and my family. My gratitude for my life and purpose in this world, motivated me to fight for my presence on this earth for years to come.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog nikia dallas fort worth inspiration

This November, when I embark upon my first-ever 3-Day, I will pull from all the strength, purpose and inspiration I have ever felt and received. I hope to channel it into every step I take, remembering the countless lives that have been lost to this horrible disease. But more than that, with every step I take, I will reflect on the incredible opportunity I’ve been given to use my life and experience to help others. I will walk with a renewed sense of my obligation to be a voice and a hope for those who have lost theirs along the way. I plan to walk every step of my 60-mile journey in appreciation of this wonderful thing called life–a life that I look forward to one day living in a world without breast cancer.

 

Thank you, Nikia! We look forward to sharing the 3-Day with you in November!

Dr. Sheri’s Michigan 3-Day Experience: Family Is What You Make It

The 2014 Susan G. Komen 3-Day® Series officially kicked off in Michigan August 15-17, and Michigan exploded with excitement, enthusiasm and commitment. We were graced with three days of beautiful weather, no liquid sunshine to speak of and a team of 375 volunteer crew members who gave untiringly of themselves to make this event a success. Nine hundred walkers showed up at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on Friday morning all smiles, their New Balance shoes laced and stories of triumph ready to fuel our three-day journey.

Dr. Sheri welcoming home the last Michigan Walker on Friday, August 15

Dr. Sheri welcoming home the last Michigan Walker on Friday, August 15

On Day One, I saw a couple at the first cheering station who approached me while holding hands. I thanked them for walking and told them how adorable they looked and as they passed, they both looked back over their shoulder and yelled simultaneously, “We’re on our honeymoon!” At first I was amazed but then I remembered where I was – the Komen 3-Day! I’ve come to realize that just about anything good and pure is possible at the 3-Day®. I later heard that another couple got engaged at one of the pit stops on the same day. Love was truly in the air.

My husband Dr. Donald rearranged his work schedule so he could join me during this event. On Sunday evening he looked at me with the biggest smile on his face and said, “I really love the 3-Day! I’ve never seen such purposeful commitment and dedication as I have repeatedly seen on every 3-Day I’ve attended.”

We are a family. There’s a famous quote that reads “Family is what you make it.” Together we have made a powerful stand in the fight to end breast cancer. We have proven ourselves strong, committed, determined and driven by a common goal. Whether made of blood relatives, friends or a combination of these, your family can offer you the support you need to thrive. Barbara Bush once said, “To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.” We were there for each other in Michigan and we will continue to embrace and carry each other throughout this upcoming season.

Sparkles of Hope Inspiring Others to Shine

The Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day team Sparkles of Hope are hard to miss. Their dazzling enthusiasm and energy are enough to capture the attention of their fellow Michigan 3-Day participants, to say nothing of their glittery team couture. This is a group of ladies who literally cover each other (and any bystander who wants to get in on the action, including this blogger) with glitter spray before walking, but even without the artificial body bling, they bring an inspiring light of their own to the Komen 3-Day.

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk 2014 michigan sparkles of hope team

2014 Michigan team Sparkles of Hope. They don’t sweat, they SPARKLE!

I spoke with team captain Lindsey L., a native of the Detroit metro area who, at just 24 years old is already a 5-time veteran of the 3-Day®. Lindsey first decided to walk in 2009 when her mom Loretta (now affectionately known as “Mama Sparkle”) was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 47. Lindsey was in her freshman year at Michigan State, and she shared how difficult it was to be away from her mom while she underwent treatment. Never one to let a feeling of helplessness take over, Lindsey registered for the Michigan 3-Day and formed the first Sparkles of Hope team with half a dozen supportive friends. She met her fundraising minimum early (“You just have to ask everybody.”), and surprised her mom in the hospital, telling her that she had started a 3-Day team and would be walking in her honor that summer. “I think she was shocked that I did all that work!” Lindsey says with a laugh.

What could have been a one-time event for Lindsey and Sparkles of Hope became much more than that. She began working directly with the Susan G. Komen Mid-Michigan Affiliate, and it was there that she met future Sparkles of Hope teammates, including Sydney T. Around the same time that Lindsey’s mom was fighting her disease, Sydney’s mom lost her own 10 year battle with breast cancer. Sydney was 18. This year, Sydney is part of the Young Women Walking program (along with two other Sparkles of Hope teammates), and appeared in the Michigan 3-Day Opening Ceremony, where she held a photo of her mom. Sydney shared, “I walk in memory of my mom and in celebration of my grandmother, who is a 47 year survivor.” This is actually Sydney’s third 3-Day event, and while work commitments kept her from walking the entire three days this year, she knows she will be back for the full event next year. She had this advice for anyone thinking about doing the 3-Day: “It’s a powerful experience, and you’ll be glad if you try. Just being near the community will keep you going. If you’re training and you can’t make it 10 miles, you’ll see that when you’re here, the community pulls you up. It’s not about the miles, it’s not about walking every step. It’s about raising the money and being here as part of the community. Hearing the stories. Your participation is valuable. It’s so important.”

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk 2014 michigan sparkles of hope sydney

Sydney, with a photo of her mom

Another Sparkles of Hope walker, Kirsten P., was the top fundraiser for Young Women Walking in Michigan this year, raising nearly twice the required minimum. Kirsten has walked the full 3-Day with Sparkles of Hope before (in 2012 and 2013), but like Sydney, was unable to walk all three days this year because of work obligations. She said, “I felt sad that I couldn’t do the whole thing this year, but I couldn’t do nothing! Young Women Walking was a great way for me to still be involved. I was able to go cheer yesterday, and it was cool to see it from the other side, but I will definitely be back for the whole thing next year. Every second is amazing!”

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk 2014 michigan sparkles of hope team

Young Women Walking Top Fundraiser Kirsten, and Sparkles of Hope team captain Lindsey

Nine of the twelve Sparkles of Hope team members are under the age of 25, making them, on average, one of the youngest teams on the Michigan event. When I pointed out that breast cancer has not always been considered a young woman’s issue (thankfully, that thinking is changing with increased awareness and education, and programs like the 3-Day’s Young Women Walking), “Captain Sparkle” Lindsey spoke openly and passionately about the Sparkles’ place in the pink world. “We’re all in our early 20s, and every one of us has been affected by breast cancer.” She points out her own Sparkles teammate Sarah K., who is a 29 year old survivor herself, and continues, “I started walking for my mom, and that was my only connection, but every single year, we hear more and more stories. We literally can’t stop because the stories keep coming, and aren’t stopping.” The emotion in her voice takes over, and you can tell that this is a young woman who knows how powerful she and other “pink soldiers” her age can be. “We can make a difference, even though we’re young. We are making a difference by educating others. We know how important it is to stay healthy, to get checked, and how important the work and research are that Susan G. Komen is doing. We know it’s such a commitment to raise money for the 3-Day, but we know that the message we can pass along to other people our age is just as important.”