During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I had my annual exam for the disease that affects one in eight women in her lifetime. Yesterday, I opened the follow-up letter from the radiologist that exclaimed, “We found no sign of breast cancer.” I consider myself fortunate, yet I will not let down my guard against this beast.
Twin Cities 3-Day walker and breast cancer survivor, Army Sgt. Cassie Mecuk is a hero, not only for her service to her country, but to her family and friends who have supported her since her first breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 24. Cassie, who is fighting breast cancer for the third time since 2009, is a member of Cassie’s Cups, a Twin Cities 3-Day team. She was recently featured in “The Pink Tank Project,” the Minnesota National Guard’s initiative to raise breast cancer awareness among Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, as well as the general public.
Cassie (left) and one of her Cassie’s Cups teammates at the Twin Cities 3-Day.
After less than 24 hours after the Susan G. Komen Tampa Bay 3-Day wrapped up for 2013, I heard from a participant who described her experience as a “piece of the miracle” of the Komen 3-Day. That seems to have summed up so many personal stories that combined to make the experience of the Tampa Bay 3-Day this year. From the glorious sunrise at Opening Ceremony on Friday morning to the seaside Spa Park Closing Ceremony, I witnessed one team after another and one walker after another accomplish more than they ever thought possible. A wheelchair was pushed for 60 miles. Many conquered the challenge for the first time ever, to their own amazement. So many reaffirmed their strength over past and present breast cancer.
With blue skies and a light breeze, the participants were eager to carry the banners over the bridges that dotted the course of three days. “Hope.” “My Sister.” “Optimism.” The firefighters, police, and ambulance services of Clearwater, Seminole, and Pinellas County were only a few who showed their strong support for the 3-Day®, lifting walkers into the air for photos, passing out pink Italian ice, and donning pink uniforms. So many showed their support on the final stretches of Day 1 and the cheering stations of Day 2 and Day 3.
The Camp Shows were a time to rest, to be entertained, and to be inspired. Kimberly Crist was recognized for her seven years of participation and over $69,640 raised to date for the fight against breast cancer. The crowd came to its feet with her acceptance of the Milestone Award on Friday night. Touching speeches by Elise M, Sonja A, and Charlie M, gave the Tampa Bay walkers time to reflect and be inspired by these wonderful people. Camp Show is never complete without the Youth Corps, both for their words and their dance skills. (And thank you to the brave souls who rocked the house during karaoke. You know who you are!)
After a shorter 15.3-mile third day, and after a beautiful stretch of bayside walking, an emotional Closing Ceremony at Spa Park kicked off. The faces of hundreds of dedicated walkers and crew members beamed in the afternoon sunshine surrounded by the beautiful bay. The individual stories looking back at the stage represented so many personal histories of triumph, ‘pieces’ making up the miracle of the Tampa Bay 3-Day.
Stephaney and Christina stop for an instant at Pit Stop 1 on Day 3
“I was terrified to walk alone,” said Christina at lunch on Day 1 of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day in Tampa Bay this year. “It wasn’t the 60 miles that worried me; it was the large teams that were very organized.” It’s true. The Komen 3-Day participants sometimes have large teams that sometimes incorporate scores of walkers and their coordinated outfits which can turn heads on the streets of any American city. “I heard Stephaney say she was alone walking, and I said: ‘Me too!'”
Stephaney and Christina walk the 60-mile route of the Tampa Bay 3-Day
The two were handed pink balloons by an onlooker, so by lunch, I assumed they were walking together anyway. I was surprised to find out they started alone – and that it was their first time participating. Stephaney is walking for her mother who is now a 5-year survivor of breast cancer. “I saw a commercial on TV when I was getting ready for work earlier this year, and thought that I needed to celebrate my mother’s health!” Both Stephaney and Christina were raised in ‘military’ families, both Air Force, so they quickly realized they had a lot to talk about.
Wilson and Henry Jr. are in tow as Stephaney and Christina roll into Pit Stop 1 on the last day of the Tampa Bay 3-Day
Christina’s mother is currently in treatment. “I loved the Opening Ceremony,” said Christina. “I tried not to cry.” The Tampa Bay 3-Day opened with a bang on Friday morning in Sand Park, and a glorious sunrise accented the booming cheers of the celebration. Christina was brought to the 3-Day by her father’s ‘shenanigans.’ She mentioned, “We always knew about the walk, but this year, my father expressed interest. He then only helped ME with the fundraising! I was in the top ten for fundraising!” Walkers have to raise $2300 to participate in the 60-mile walk, and most find creative strategies to fundraise. “We opened up donations from my father’s work, and they were more than generous.” By Day 3, they still had pink balloons, explaining that since the beginning, it had become their thing. One of the girl’s father went to a balloon shop to revive the symbol of their new ‘team.’ “The guy at the balloon shop just gave them to us, considering what we were doing!” the girls explained. They had written their mascots’ names on the balloons: ‘Wilson’ and ‘Henry Jr.’ (The movie reference from the Tom Hanks film was apparent, but evidently ‘Henry Jr’ is just a loving nickname.)
They are anticipating some strong family support today at Closing Ceremony in Tampa Bay. Congratulate Stephaney and Christina on their first time walks this weekend!
The girls gear up for Day 2 of the Tampa Bay 3-Day