I’m thankful for life every day of the year, but I have to admit that this is my most favorite time of the year. As a physician and six-year breast cancer survivor, I wanted to take this opportunity to share something for which I am truly thankful: advances in screening and treatment have improved survival for U.S. women with breast cancer. In 1980, the relative five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early was only 74%. Today, it is 99%! As a survivor, I accept the responsibility to educate as many people as I can about breast health and share with them how they too can join in the fight to end breast cancer.
Thanksgiving should be a holiday in which we, as individuals, focus on our past, our present circumstances, and our future endeavors, and give thanks. It should be a day to slow down for a few hours, join hands with our family and friends, and truly reflect on the blessings in our lives. There is so much in this beautiful world to be thankful for, and the least we can do is take a moment to realize that on a day that is dedicated to giving thanks. You can still go shopping, watch your football team, go for a second serving of turkey and potatoes and tell stories about the “first” Thanksgiving. These are all very enjoyable things. But just remember that it shouldn’t be about what other people make it out to be. Thanksgiving is what you make it about, and if you think of the holiday in its namesake only, the proper notion should be clearly evident.
Enjoy this time with family and friends and I can’t wait to see you all again next year!
The Susan G. Komen 3-Day® in San Diego is one of the longest running Komen 3-Day events, and you can tell that it’s something that the entire community looks forward to all year. Set against the backdrop of the stunning Pacific coastline, the San Diego 3-Day welcomes walkers and crew members from all over the country, as well as countless local supporters, for three days of belief and hope for a world where breast cancer is no more.
Many walkers and crew awoke in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning and faced rainy skies and an uncertain start to Day 1. But by the time Dr. Sheri took the stage for an always-inspiring Opening Ceremony, the clouds had lifted and Mother Nature treated us to a spectacular sunrise and a miraculous rainbow over the ocean as 2,400 dedicated women and men walked out of the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the first steps of their 60 mile journey. The first of many cheering stations spanned blocks of Del Mar Village, a neighborhood of pink supporters who come out in force every year. Just before the 5-mile point, walkers began the ascent up the notorious Torrey Pines hill (it’s a good thing this State Nature Reserve is so scenic!). Walkers were treated to a beach-front lunch stop at Kellogg Park. The second half of the Day 1 route boasted even more cheering stations, including the Scripps Oceanographic Institute (and all its many branches), with numerous spots along the way. The Mor Furniture supporters and a group of Wells Fargo employees from who came out from Arizona each had private cheering stations, as did La Valencia Hotel and La Jolla Beach/Tennis Club in La Jolla with their huge balloon arch. Many walkers were treated to smooches from the “Kissing Dog” and more lovely sights (and more hills…) through La Jolla, before the final approach to the 3-Day camp at the waterfront Crown Point Shores park.
The Friday night dining tent was warmed up with high-energy entertainment by walkers/singers Eve and Mattie, followed by the Friday night camp show, where male breast cancer survivor Lee Giller moved the audience with his story. We recognized some outstanding 3-Day participants, including the Milestone Award winner, top training walk leader, and top fundraisers.
Walkers set out along the water from camp on Day 2 under sunny skies and quickly warming temps, and were almost immediately greeted by more enthusiastic public and private cheering stations (are you sensing a theme yet? San Diego loves its cheering stations!) Before long, they were on the rise again, into the hilly Sunset Cliffs neighborhood, where they took in more beautiful views of the Pacific stretching to the horizon. The New Balance cheerleaders welcomed walkers to pit stop at Sunset Elementary School. The Young Survivor Coalition (which included some walker and many cheering supporters) rallied the walkers through their second twenty miles. Lunch was at another spectacular waterfront part at Bonita Cove, and walkers leaving the park were gifted with delightful pink gerbera daisies. The route continued along the boardwalk, with many walkers stopping for the endless photo ops, including a certain pair of bow-tied male dancers just outside pit stop 3. A group of adorable therapy dogs greeted the parade of pink, and as if that weren’t sweet enough, there were free treats of ice cream and fresh-baked cookies at Fanuel Street Park, the location of pit stop 4. The final stretch of Day 2 brought walkers back along Bayside Walk, where a special Youth Corps Alumni cheering station was set up, and into camp.Saturday night’s dance party, it seems, made an early preview appearance thanks to the rockin’ live entertainment from cover band Back Stage Pass, which had dozens of folks on their feet in front of the stage. The Saturday camp show featured fun games, moving speeches by young survivor Ann Hattrup, co-survivor/seven-city-walker Stephanie Kohatsu, and the San Diego Youth Corps. And then, of course, came the actual Saturday night dance party, which had the floor and stage packed from start to finish.
Sunday is a highly anticipated Day 3 in San Diego, with the lovely DeAnza Cove as the backdrop for pit stop 1, and the visiting Girl Scouts giving out boxes of Thin Mints was the talk of the morning. It was an endless display of cheering stations, from the MadCaps mother/daughter group before pit 2, to the singing students outside Francis Parker School, so the fun photo props outside Mo’s in Hillcrest. One doozy of a hill climb up Juan St. in Old Town was made easier by multiple cheer spots (fresh free chips and salsa, anyone?) and concluded shortly after at a cozy shaded park for the lunch stop. Even when walkers were still miles out from the finish line, hundreds of family and friends lined the streets at Museum Row and into the downtown area, forming a human chain of spirit and support to energize the weary walkers into the participant finish area.
The setting sun was a multi-colored curtain behind the Closing Ceremony area, where our thousands of walkers, crew members and supporters packed in for the emotional ceremony. Dr. Sheri and our friend Norm Bowling from Susan G. Komen congratulated the San Diego 3-Day family on an amazing $7 million raised.
The conclusion of the 2014 3-Day season was an emotional one, but as we raised the final flag over San Diego, we were bonded with our 3-Day family in all seven of our cities (and beyond), by the mutual promise that we will never give up until we have defeated breast cancer forever. Thank you, 3-Day walkers and crew!
When Dena M. made plans to walk in the 2014 Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, she set her sights high, registering for both the Seattle and San Diego events, and setting a goal to raise $10,000. But after crossing the finish line on Day 1 of the 2014 Seattle 3-Day in September, little did she know that her 3-Day ambitions for the rest of the year were about to be cut short.
“So I raised $10,500. And then I blew out my knee in Seattle. Day 1, 24 miles in. I crossed the finish line and danced and jumped and landed wrong. My teammates heard it.”
Even though Dena’s husband came out and pushed her in a wheelchair for Day 3, it soon became clear that her plans to walk in a second event this year were not realistic.
“My goal was to still walk here [in San Diego], so I went to several doctors and started physical therapy, my goal was to do at least 5 miles each day. But I ended up injuring my knee more by training, and got blood clots in my legs. My husband was going to come and push me in a wheelchair again, but the doctor said I couldn’t sit for that long because of the vein issues.”
Dena’s San Diego team, Mommies for Mammies, were almost all fellow Seattle-area friends who were bound for the Golden State, and Dena was determined to go with them, even if she wouldn’t be able to walk. Outside the entrance to a Day 2 pit stop was where I met her, while she waited for her teammates to come in, her knee still in a brace and her crutches leaning on the fence nearby. Speaking to Dena, the emotion in her voice was unmistakable. It was so difficult for her to not be walking herself, but still so important for her to be here in San Diego for her teammates. “This wasn’t my plan. I mean, I’m glad to be able to be here, but I wanted to walk. I know it’s about the fundraising, but for me, it’s about both. It’s been a tough couple of months.
Dena cheers for the incoming walkers
“These women are amazing,” she says tearfully, referring not just to her Mommies for Mammies teammates, but all of the walkers (women and men) who stream past her into the pit stop.
I asked Dena what brought her to the 3-Day in the first place. “Three years ago, December 6, I lost my best friend, Jean. I watched her go through the process, and I was there when she passed.” Dena also mentions another member of the 3-Day community that they lost early this year. She stops for a moment, and I’m grateful for the pause, since I’m crying at this point too. “I also lost my aunt, and I have four friends currently going through treatment. So I do this for them, and I do it for other people who can’t walk, and will continue to walk. This means the world.”
In the midst of this solemn moment, Erika and Victoria, two of the other Mommies for Mammies, reach the pit stop and immediately greet Dena with a hug. Dena expresses again how she wishes she was walking with them.
Mommies for Mammies greet Dena with hugs and cheers
“You just gotta take care of you this weekend, girl,” Erika replies. “We’re walking for you. We are your angels walking.” You can tell they’re a remarkable team, not only from their unwavering support for each other, but also from the fact that this year in San Diego, their very first event as a team, they are within the top 5 fundraising teams.
I asked Dena what her plans are for next year. Without hesitation, the emotion in her voice changes from sad to determined, and she says, “I’m going to walk all seven. I’m going do it, God willing, if my knee heals. I have surgery on the 9th of December.”
Dena shared one other story with me. After Jean died, her husband gave some of her ashes to Dena, asking her, when she was ready, to distribute them someplace that was special to Jean and Dena. “I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to let go of her.” Thinking about how Jean was Dena’s inspiration to get involved with the 3-Day in the first place, and how 2015 will bring Dena to seven cities across America to walk in Jean’s memory, I took a chance and suggested that Dena leave a small bit of Jean’s ashes in each of the 3-Day event cities next year. Her face lit up. “Yes! I’m going to do that. You have no idea how much that idea means to me.” It was one of the most beautiful moments of connection that I’ve experienced in all my years with the 3-Day.
Dena, we’ll see you in all seven cities in 2015!
Dena’s best laid plans for this year may have fallen short, but there’s no doubt that she is far from done with her 3-Day journey.