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, Mich., on Friday morning all smiles, their New Balances 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.”

Congratulations to Michigan’s Milestone Award Winner, Bert S.!

Congratulations to Bert S., the Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day Milestone Award Winner, who has raised approximately $175,000 over the 10 events he’s participated in (nine in Michigan, and one in Chicago.)

Bert’s inspiration to walk his first Komen 3-Day came after a very dear friend of his was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Her husband and I felt helpless and just felt we needed to do something. We formed our “Mavens” team and that first year was literally life changing for both of us, and we’ve been walking every year, ever since. I am happy to report that my friend has beaten breast cancer – she’s a survivor!” said Bert. (Bert, 81, laughs as he describes the meaning behind his team name — “The wise guys!”, and Bert’s wife, whom he calls “his maven”, defines as a knowledgeable person.)

Milestone Award Winner Bert on his way to 60 miles on Day 2 of the Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day

Milestone Award Winner Bert on his way to 60 miles on Day 2 of the Susan G. Komen Michigan 3-Day

Bert says that fundraising letters have been the key to his success. Bert’s assistant of 34 years, Pam, helps Bert write his fundraising letter. “It wouldn’t happen without Pam,” he said. Bert also notes how details are important when it comes to sending out fundraising letters, as they can help guarantee your success and help your donors realize what they will accomplish by supporting you. “We probably sent out 145 letters this year and we got about 142 responses. You have to tell people how far we’ve come in conquering the disease. And, what a wonderful percentage of recovery we have today.”

As a veteran 3-Day walker, Bert said that his best advice to anyone walking the 3-Day is to train, train, train. “I cannot put enough emphasis on training — start with short distances and work your way up.  Stay focused on “finishing” the event,” he said. Bert also adds that in his personal experience, after about fourteen miles, completing the walk is “all mental”.

Like many 3-Day walkers, Bert is aware of the risk of breast cancer and how it can change a family. Bert has been married for 60 years, to his wife Marion, and he has four daughters, three granddaughters, and a grandson. “I have a lot of good friends who have been touched one way or another by this disease. It’s their mother, their grandmother, their wife…This disease can hit anyone at any time and I literally walk today so that someday, there will be no reason to walk.  I have met some amazing people over the years and they continue to inspire me with every step of every walk.” You inspire us too, Bert.