“I didn’t have to watch anymore. I could walk.” – A Guest Post

For Susan G. Komen 3-Day® walker Carly M., walking has become a powerful tool for healing. She shares her story with us.

“From the time I was 13, cancer was a common term in my house. My youngest sister had leukemia when she was 9, underwent different kinds of chemotherapy for two and a half years, and beat it. It was my junior year of high school, and for a year, we were a normal family again. No cancer treatments.

“Then, the summer before my senior year in high school, a week before I turned 17, my mom was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. The doctor had originally told her it was a breast infection because it presented as a red, inflamed breast. No lump. Not the normal presentation for breast cancer. She had breastfed her five children, and the youngest was in 8th grade, so she obviously was not breastfeeding anymore and an infection seemed unlikely. Frustrated, she indulged the doctor and treated it as a breast infection for a week but when nothing changed, she went back and told him to figure out what it actually was. After many tests, they determined it was inflammatory breast cancer. They said that if she had not come in when she did, she would have only survived six more months. IBD is a very aggressive form of breast cancer, the five-year survival rate at that time was not great. Today it is still not amazing; depending on stage when diagnosed (this form is usually a stage III or IV upon diagnosis) and estrogen receptor status, it can be as low as a 34% five-year survival rate.

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer 60 mile walk blog mom

Baby Carly and her mom, Joan

“At the age of 49, with five kids ranging in age from 13- 21, my mom was not ready to throw in the towel. Over the next 10 months, she underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy, a stem cell transplant and radiation. It was a harrowing year but we all made it through, thinking at the end that maybe we had beaten the odds. I graduated from high school and chose a university close to home to be able to help if needed.

“In January of that next year, my mom had a re-occurrence in her spine; the cancer had metastasized to her bones. For the next four years, we played a balancing game of radiation and chemotherapy, trying to keep the level of cancer cells in her blood low and zapping the sites where they landed.

“I graduated from college in May of 1999 and moved back home. My mom died in July, two weeks after my birthday. I was able to be there those last two months and help where I could. I still have many regrets about that time. I regretted the selfish things a college student does instead of spending time with their mom. I wish I had told her more often what an amazing mom she was to me. I wish I had reassured her that it was enough, that everything she had done for us was enough. But at 22, those words escaped me. And hindsight is always much clearer than when you are in it.

“I started walking in the 3-Day that next year. A very good friend of mine saw that I was floundering and found a way to give my emotions an outlet. This walk became one of the best things I could do for myself. The thing with cancer is it makes you feel helpless. You watch your mom become weak, her body a shell of what it once was. You watch her cry, giving her comfort when you can. You watch her throw up, again and again, and all you can do is give her a bowl and hold her hair. You watch her tell you she is not ready to die, and all you can do is cry with her. You watch.

“But with the 3-Day, I didn’t have to watch anymore. I could walk. I could fundraise. I could talk with other men and women who had experienced similar things. I could see the early detection programs that have been funded by the 3-Day. I could meet the women who are alive because they got treatment before their cancer had advanced. I could experience firsthand the good that the 3-Day can do. And it’s a lot of good. And I could walk some more. I didn’t have to watch anymore. I didn’t have to feel helpless anymore.

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer 60 mile walk blog mom

Carly, now a mom herself, walks in the hopes that her kids won’t have to experience the pain she did.

“I know we haven’t found a cure yet, but to me, knowing that some children don’t have to say goodbye to their moms too soon is enough. And so I walk.”

Carly will be walking in her 8th 3-Day event next month in Michigan.

The Insider’s Peek at the Atlanta Route

In February of this year, we treated our readers to The Insider’s Peek at the 3-Day Route, where we gave you a detailed look at the planning, work and execution that goes into creating the routes for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® Series. While that two-part Insider’s Peek was full of tasty details, it didn’t explicitly address the particulars of any specific Komen 3-Day location.

Until now!

It seemed like a natural progression to go from an expansive overview of 3-Day® route-planning in general to a more pinpointed look at each of the seven 3-Day events. So I’ve been picking the brains of the event planning team and local coaches to get the skinny on what walkers can expect. Sharing this information early on will help walkers prepare for their events, train for what’s to come and know what exciting high points to look forward to.

We’ve been giving you one of these more in-depth route peeks for every 2015 3-Day event (we’re more than halfway through, already having seen peeks at the Michigan, Twin Cities, Seattle and Philadelphia routes) and today, it’s the Atlanta 3-Day’s turn to shine. Let’s see what 3-Day Event Planner Brian and Atlanta 3-Day Coaches Tara and Susan had to say:

  • Do you know of any major changes to the Atlanta route from last year? – Folks who walked the Atlanta 3-Day last year will see lots of familiar sights, as there are no big changes from 2014’s route. That said, the team reminds us that there’s always potential for last-minute changes as we approach the event in October.SUsan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles atlanta route peek insider's guide
  • What, if any, geographical challenges does Atlanta’s route present (e.g., are there hills? Poor sidewalks? Sections with no shade? Portions of the route that sweep vans can’t access easily?)? – Susan and Tara were both quick to respond with the biggest challenge Atlanta 3-Day walkers can expect: hills. Tara told me, “Many people complain about the hills, but Atlanta is a hilly place and there’s no way to avoid them. Walkers should prepare to walk those hills in order to see the beautiful sites the route does have.” Susan adds, “You may want to curse them from time to time, but you’re going to get a real treat with our route. Make sure that you train with that in mind.” SUsan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles atlanta route peek insider's guideSusan also shared, “Most of the route is pretty urban, which means that you’ll be doing a lot of walking on concrete. Sometimes the sidewalks aren’t in perfect condition because we will be walking through some of the older, more historic areas.” Brian also shared some non-hill related input. “Atlanta in October is pretty mild, but can get hot. Some short portions of Day 1 between Stone Mountain and Decatur follow a trail, so there will be no direct access to sweep vans (those wonderful 3-Day-staffed vans that pick you up if you can’t walk anymore) on those parts, but once walkers reach Decatur, sweep van access is plentiful. The mileage is full on Day 1 and 2 (22 and 20 miles, respectively), and we may increase sweep van access locations on those days if the needs demand it. There are some locations with no sidewalk, so we’ll have coned-off walking paths on the shoulder of the road and plenty of police support. There’s also limited sweep van access through Piedmont Park on Day 3.”SUsan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles atlanta route peek insider's guide
  • Any specific highlights/locations that walkers can look forward to seeing along the way? – Susan was quick to boast about her city’s route. “I absolutely love this route! It manages to take you through some of the coolest parts of Atlanta. On Friday we start at Stone Mountain which is very uniquely Atlanta. On Saturday, you’ll walk through some beautiful residential neighborhoods and will walk by the Governor’s Mansion. Sunday takes you through Piedmont Park, a true gem in our city, then through some more historic neighborhoods (picture Driving Miss Daisy) and past the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.” Brian and Tara also listed off their favorite spots along the route: the Botanical Gardens; Downtown Decatur and Little Five Points (fun shops and boutiques); downtown Buckhead; Peachtree Street, with lots of restaurants and shops; World of Coke and Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta; the campuses of Georgia Tech and Emory University; Freedom Trail bike path. Whew!SUsan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles atlanta route peek insider's guide
  • Any other information you can provide about the overall “essence” of Atlanta’s route? – “Although the route is the same as it’s been the last few years,” Tara said, “we are working to amp up the community involvement even more, and have lots of cheering sections and business out to support our walkers.” Brian had this to say: “The Atlanta route really provides a good historical aspect of our southern roots. From the Opening Ceremony at the foot of Stone Mountain underneath the carving, to the downtown neighborhoods of Atlanta and the MLK historical center, highlighting the civil rights movement. Downtown Atlanta shows the progress of a modern southern city embracing its heritage.” And Susan summed it up beautifully, saying “What I love most about the Atlanta 3-Day is that you are basically getting a walking tour of the city’s rich history. In addition to that, Atlanta is a city full of warm, Southern charm.”SUsan G. Komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles atlanta route peek insider's guide

The Bottom Line – Hearing that your chosen route is loaded with some big, challenging hills can be a source of anxiety for a lot of walkers, but that’s exactly why we’re giving you these route peeks. For walkers coming to Atlanta in October, there is still plenty of time to work hills into their training routines and show up at Stone Mountain well prepared. The American south in October will be a tableau of beautiful fall colors, but the weather could easily swing from cool mornings to toasty afternoon sun, back to chilly evenings, so be sure to dress in layers. Like Michigan and Philly, the Atlanta 3-Day camp is indoors, which makes camping a breeze.

The Insider’s Take – My team and I walked in Atlanta last year, and it was lovely. Simply lovely. The city and surrounding areas are full of vibrant history, natural and manmade beauty, and quirky charm. The people—everyone from cheering station supporters who praised us like we were their own family, to the local shopkeepers who thanked us for walking by not charging us for our frozen pops, to the congenial police officer who took the time to tell us a little bit about the neighborhood while we waited to cross an intersection—are some of the kindest and friendliest folks you’ll ever meet. As for the hills? They didn’t faze me, but in all fairness, I’m not usually too troubled by hilly walking. My take is the same as it is in any other hilly 3-Day locale: train on hills, and you’ll be fine with the hills. And as with all the 3-Day locations, Atlanta is a place to just keep putting one foot in front of the other while taking in the sights and sounds of a world getting closer and closer to being rid of breast cancer. That’s a view that looks great from anywhere.

16 Ways to Pass the Time While Walking in the 3-Day

For most Susan G. Komen 3-Day® walkers, it takes about 8 hours to walk the 20-mile route each day. In my years of walking, I’ve found that even the most dazzling conversationalists sometimes run out of things to talk about during those many hours of walking. Or perhaps sometimes they just need a playful diversion to keep them focused on something fun and positive, instead of focusing on how much their feet hurt or how badly they need a porta-potty.

To help you prepare for your 3-Day® adventure, here are some mirthful ways to pass the minutes and the miles:

The Games We Play

  • 20 Questions – Everyone knows this one. Can you guess the person, place or thing I’m thinking of by asking 20 or fewer yes/no questions?
  • Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon – This is a fun game for the particularly movie-savvy players. It’s based on the theory that Kevin Bacon is such a prolific actor, that he is connected every other actor in Hollywood by six links or less. To play, you pick an actor, and try to connect them, through movies/shows they’ve been in, to Kevin Bacon in six moves or less. For example: Bradley Cooper was in “He’s Just Not That Into You” with Jennifer Aniston, who was in “Picture Perfect” with Kevin Bacon. 2 moves. Boom.
  • The Movie/Actor Game – Another Hollywood-centric game, in this one, you try and see how long a chain you can make by connecting movies and actors who were in them. One person starts by naming a movie, the next person names an actor in that movie, then the next person names another movie that that actor was in, and so on. The round ends when someone is stumped on naming a new movie or actor.
  • Trivial Pursuit – One year, my teammates and I brought a stack of old Trivial Pursuit question cards and took turns reading the questions to each other. Before we knew it, other walkers around us were joining in on guessing answers. We’d even leave the cards at the pit stops when we were done, only to come across other walkers later in the day who had picked them up to join in the fun.
  • Would You Rather…? – This one’s pretty simple: come up with two scenarios (it works best if both are slightly unpleasant) and challenge each other to decide which scenario you’d rather choose. For example, would you rather have your head be the size of a watermelon or the size of a tennis ball?
  • Alphabet Games – Pick some topic or theme, and take turns naming items that match the theme, starting with each consecutive letter of the alphabet. Some of my favorite themes have been movie titles, band names, body parts, American cities/towns. There’s no limit to possible themes. Another alphabet game involves finding each letter of the alphabet on signs, license plates or even your fellow walkers’ t-shirts that you pass.
  • Presidential Checklist – I’d wager that every locale in America has something named after Washington or Lincoln. What about the other presidents? Taking into account duplicate names (your Adamses, Harrisons, Johnsons, Roosevelts and Bushes), there are 38 presidential last names. Can you spot them around town as you walk?
  • Name the Singer/Band – If you listen to music while you walk, or when you come across tunes being played at pit stops or cheering stations, this game challenges you to name the singer/band before the people around you. It’s like “Name That Tune,” with a twist.
  • Car-Spotting Games – What started out as the simple Slug Bug/Punch Buggy game (call out the Volkswagen Beetles and color before someone else does) has evolved into a plethora of car-spotting games (or it has with my family and friends, anyway). We try and beat each other calling out-of-state license plates, yellow cars, green cars, Jeeps (easily recognizable by their distinctive slotted front grill), Mustangs and more. You can add whatever layers you want to the game. Try adding a new element at every pit stop. Soon, you and your friends will be cracking up as you try to keep up remembering what you’re looking for.
  • Marry, Date, Dump – Name three people (they could be celebrities, people you know, even fictional characters). Your fellow players have to decide which one they’d date, which one they’d marry, and which one they’d dump. Hilarity ensues.
  • Two Truths and a Lie – You list three things about yourself: two of them are true and one is made up. Your teammates have to guess which “fact” you invented.
  • Orange Shirt Drinking Game – This is a game that’s 100% unique to the 3-Day, and helps keep you hydrated. It’s simple: every time you see an orange-shirted crew member (route safety, traffic control), take a drink of your water or sports drink. If it’s a particularly hot day, you could also add orange signs into the game.

Non-Game Ways to Pass Some Time

  • Talk in an accent – There very well could come the point when you’re feeling so exhausted/bored/goofy that you’ll find yourself carrying on your conversations in any variety of accents. It’s completely silly, and I wouldn’t even mention it if I hadn’t done it myself dozens of times.
  • Sing Songs – I challenge anyone to try breaking out “American Pie” or just about any TV theme song, and not see it quickly turn into a sing-along with everyone around you.
  • Stretch – You’re doing this anyway, right? But you actually can stretch while you’re walking. It won’t kill a whole lot of time, but it might be enough of a distraction to get you to the next pit stop.
  • Share Stories – This really goes without saying. So much of what makes the 3-Day so special are the stories that every single walker and crew member brings with them. As you stroll along, take the time to ask your fellow 3-Dayers to share their stories, and share yours with them.

What fun ways have you found to pass the time while you walk?