While February is generally considered to be the month of love, we wanted to keep those warm fuzzy romantic vibes flowing into March with a very sweet Susan G. Komen 3-Day® love story. Our guest blogger is Rachel T., a breast cancer survivor who is returning to walk in the Philadelphia 3-Day this year.
With my bleach-blonde locks hidden beneath a dense spraying of hot-pink hair spray, my eyelashes quadrupled in length by a pair of shimmering-glue-on “falsies,” my neck adorned with over a dozen strands of pink (some of which had the sole purpose of carrying any and every 3-Day®-themed button I could get my first-time-walker hands on) and my clothing saturated in quite possibly every shade of pink ever created, I clearly had not dressed in anticipation of having my first encounter with the man of my dreams. At twenty-six years old, I had cracked the ever-so-mysterious code of what most guys my age were interested in: beers, bros and babes (especially babes with boobs, two things I had recently said “ta-ta” to) and had concluded while getting dressed that there weren’t enough of any of those things offered at the 3-Day to make any guy my age choose to spend their weekend walking sixty miles rather than his usual weekend bar plans.
And yet there he was, walking right beside me within the first few miles of the 2012 Philadelphia 3-Day: my knight in shining fire gear. My teammates took notice of him first, quickly striking up a conversation with him about his clothing of choice (he was fully outfitted in firefighter gear, including a 40-pound air-pack), and subsequently introducing him to me, the “Rach” in Team Race for Rach’s Rack, the survivor they had all gathered to walk with who had been diagnosed with breast cancer just one week after her twenty-fourth birthday. He quickly became an honorary member of our team and he marched the entire 60 miles without complaint, responding to everyone who had asked him about his struggles that they were nothing compared to the many faced by the survivors currently walking beside him. He won what seemed to be every walker’s heart within those three days, including mine. Soon after, I would learn that that weekend, where he went the extra mile (or sixty, really), were only a glimpse of what my future would hold, as he soon became my main source of support, my best friend and the man I will always love.
Many of our friends refer to our love as a fairy tale, and our story is adored by those who enjoy romantic endings. But the romance of it is not the only reason I find myself wanting to share our story. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my biggest fear was that I would never find a man who would be willing to take on the baggage I came with. I was convinced that all men were too visual, too obsessed with physical features, to be able to get past my boob-less chest. I assumed that once I opened up that they would see how physically and emotionally torn apart I was, and wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. So I decided to give up, knowing I couldn’t face the pain of heartache on top of having so much other pain to fight through. I closed myself off, shut my heart down, and became someone I was not. I made sure that no matter what I did, it didn’t involve romance, because that way I couldn’t get hurt.
I share the story of my knight in shining fire gear because I know so many other young survivors suffer from this same fear. I can’t help but think that if I had heard a love story like mine, I would have been able to keep hope. I am a romantic at heart; I want to love and I want to be loved, and I have been that way for as long as I can remember. Having this fear forced me to become someone I wasn’t, allowing cancer to take control of that part of my life. Today, I tell everyone I know that it is you who determines what cancer can and cannot do. It is how you decide to react to your diagnosis that matters. You are still in full control of what you see in your mirror and who you are as person.
It is my goal to share my story in order to provide the hope I wish I would have kept while fighting my battle. I share this blog post not just to share a happy ending, but to inspire that single woman—the one who is a true romantic, the one who holds this same fear—that they can be themselves, that cancer doesn’t have to change the things that make them who they are, and that this fear is fueled by the mirage of what we think cancer can do, rather than what it actually does. Cancer can’t change who you are or those qualities that you carry which someone who truly loves you will adore despite your cancer. I want that young survivor to keep hope, to keep dreaming, to not let fear take over the strength and beauty she has within her. Love will still be there, walking towards you one day, maybe not in full fire gear, but always wearing his heart on his sleeve, ready for you to start the rest of your lives together.