For Susan G. Komen 3-Day® walker Carly M., walking has become a powerful tool for healing. She shares her story with us.
“From the time I was 13, cancer was a common term in my house. My youngest sister had leukemia when she was 9, underwent different kinds of chemotherapy for two and a half years, and beat it. It was my junior year of high school, and for a year, we were a normal family again. No cancer treatments.
“Then, the summer before my senior year in high school, a week before I turned 17, my mom was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. The doctor had originally told her it was a breast infection because it presented as a red, inflamed breast. No lump. Not the normal presentation for breast cancer. She had breastfed her five children, and the youngest was in 8th grade, so she obviously was not breastfeeding anymore and an infection seemed unlikely. Frustrated, she indulged the doctor and treated it as a breast infection for a week but when nothing changed, she went back and told him to figure out what it actually was. After many tests, they determined it was inflammatory breast cancer. They said that if she had not come in when she did, she would have only survived six more months. IBD is a very aggressive form of breast cancer, the five-year survival rate at that time was not great. Today it is still not amazing; depending on stage when diagnosed (this form is usually a stage III or IV upon diagnosis) and estrogen receptor status, it can be as low as a 34% five-year survival rate.
“At the age of 49, with five kids ranging in age from 13- 21, my mom was not ready to throw in the towel. Over the next 10 months, she underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy, a stem cell transplant and radiation. It was a harrowing year but we all made it through, thinking at the end that maybe we had beaten the odds. I graduated from high school and chose a university close to home to be able to help if needed.
“In January of that next year, my mom had a re-occurrence in her spine; the cancer had metastasized to her bones. For the next four years, we played a balancing game of radiation and chemotherapy, trying to keep the level of cancer cells in her blood low and zapping the sites where they landed.
“I graduated from college in May of 1999 and moved back home. My mom died in July, two weeks after my birthday. I was able to be there those last two months and help where I could. I still have many regrets about that time. I regretted the selfish things a college student does instead of spending time with their mom. I wish I had told her more often what an amazing mom she was to me. I wish I had reassured her that it was enough, that everything she had done for us was enough. But at 22, those words escaped me. And hindsight is always much clearer than when you are in it.
“I started walking in the 3-Day that next year. A very good friend of mine saw that I was floundering and found a way to give my emotions an outlet. This walk became one of the best things I could do for myself. The thing with cancer is it makes you feel helpless. You watch your mom become weak, her body a shell of what it once was. You watch her cry, giving her comfort when you can. You watch her throw up, again and again, and all you can do is give her a bowl and hold her hair. You watch her tell you she is not ready to die, and all you can do is cry with her. You watch.
“But with the 3-Day, I didn’t have to watch anymore. I could walk. I could fundraise. I could talk with other men and women who had experienced similar things. I could see the early detection programs that have been funded by the 3-Day. I could meet the women who are alive because they got treatment before their cancer had advanced. I could experience firsthand the good that the 3-Day can do. And it’s a lot of good. And I could walk some more. I didn’t have to watch anymore. I didn’t have to feel helpless anymore.
“I know we haven’t found a cure yet, but to me, knowing that some children don’t have to say goodbye to their moms too soon is enough. And so I walk.”
Carly will be walking in her 8th 3-Day event next month in Michigan.