The Silent Survivor

As I post today’s inspirational 3-Day story, our amazing 2013 Boston 3-Day Crew are busy decorating sweep vans, marking routes and making preparations to support the 3-Day walkers who will begin their 3-Day journey tomorrow. If you would like to cheer on our walkers this weekend, check out our Spectator Information for locations and times when walkers will be passing by.

Debbi Shaffer is walking in her fourth 3-Day in Washington DC, and has also cheered friends as a “walker-stalker” in San Diego. Debbi proudly wears her 3-Day survivor Victory t-shirt now, but it took her years to share her very personal experience with breast cancer. We are thankful that she chose to share it with us on The 3-Day Blog.

  • Eighteen years ago, Debbi got the news that changed her life. “I can hardly believe it has been 18 years since my boyfriend found a lump in my left breast. When I went to my doctor and was told I had breast cancer, at the time all I could think was, ‘28 year olds are not supposed to have breast cancer’. I was silent about my own experience for many years.”
  • Even after 15 years as a breast cancer survivor, Debbi still wasn’t comfortable with the title. “In 2010, when I signed up for my first Komen 3-Day, I spent hours struggling over the decision whether or not to check the ‘Survivor’ box on the registration form. Even though I checked it, I still wasn’t comfortable with the title ‘Survivor.’ At both the 2010 and 2011 3-Day events, I collected my pink, survivor victory shirt, but didn’t put it on. I opted not to join the other survivors at the Closing Ceremony, but instead remained with my teammates.”
  • Last year marked a turning point for Debbi. “I was honored as a survivor participant in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Washington, DC 3-Day, which for me was another step towards accepting my diagnosis. I had to bravely put on my pink survivor shirt and finally accept the title of survivor. It was an overwhelming emotional experience, and a big step in my journey towards finally conquering breast cancer.”
  • “At the culmination of each 3-Day, during the Closing Ceremony, there is a shoe salute, where each participant removes a sneaker en mass and holds it up in the air to honor the survivors as they enter. In past years I’ve stood with my team and I have held my own shoe up in tribute. Last year, as I walked in with the other survivors and saw all those shoes held aloft, I realized all those wonderful people had walked for me.  It almost rendered me unable to take another step, but I took the hands of the women beside me and we continued to put one foot in front of the other, as survivors do.”
  • Now on her fourth 3-Day, the event has taken on a deeper meaning for Debbi. “The 3-Day is much more than just the event itself. It is a journey comprised of many months of training and fundraising. There are weekends where sleeping in or reading a book sounds more appealing than training, but I know what I’m doing is important. It’s not just the money I raise, but the awareness and knowledge I bring by telling my story. If I can save one life because I convinced someone to get a mammogram, then it is all worth it.”
  • Signing up to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day was one of the hardest and yet, one of the best decisions I ever made. For me it has truly been a life changing experience. While I may have been initially hesitant about participating, I’m glad I made this decision. I can’t imagine not walking 60 miles year after year to honor all of those who have had the same life changing diagnosis, at age 28 or otherwise. I have gotten so much more back from this community than I have put into it and it has changed me forever and for the better. Today I am proud to say that I am a survivor.”

    Debbi Shaffer enjoys the 3-Day as a proud breast cancer survivor.

    Debbi Shaffer enjoys the 3-Day as a proud breast cancer survivor.

What does the word “survivor” mean to you?  Please share your stories in the comments section below.