Flying the Flags of Hope

Today is Flag Day in the United States, and while we all should honor the Stars and Stripes in our hearts, here at the 3-Day, we have some flags of our own that carry very special meaning too.

At our Opening and Closing Ceremonies and in camp, we are surrounded by flags and banners with inspirational words and phrases, giving us motivation, encouragement and hope. One of the most powerful moments of each Closing Ceremony is when we raise the final flag over a sea of triumphant walkers, crew members and survivors, signifying our commitment to a world without breast cancer.12031392_10156039901120392_5626771338758218186_o 13268374_10156909268860392_6896089530611072979_o

We also raise a very special flag in camp on the first two nights of each 3-Day event. This flag is carried into camp, amidst incredible fanfare, by the last walker to arrive each day.

It’s a beautiful tradition on the 3-Day. Instead of celebrating the first walker to make it across the finish line like most other races do, we instead ignite everyone already in camp to come out and cheer in the last walker. With their arrival, our 3-Day family is complete for another night.

So to tie in with Flag Day, we gathered some thoughts from a few of our last walkers from the 2015 events, sharing what that experience and that special flag meant to them.

Kathryn Labbe, who lives in Mesa, AZ, was the last walker (along with her teammates) on Day 1 of the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day last year. Kathryn has participated in the 3-Day every year since 2006 (except 2014), and will be walking this year in the Twin Cities. When asked how that Day 1 was for her last year, she said, “My day was long, hot and exhausting, but fun. It was great fun being last walkers.  We were so happy to have made it to camp. We didn’t care if we were last.” Kathryn reminds us, “It’s a walk, not a race.”

Kathryn (far right) and teammates

Kathryn (far right) and teammates

At the 2015 Atlanta 3-Day, Julie Hipple, a five-time walker and a stage IV breast cancer survivor, was our inspirational camp speaker on Friday night, sharing her experience with metastatic disease and Komen’s impact on her treatment. On Saturday, Julie continued to inspire her fellow Atlanta 3-Dayers by raising the last walker flag at the end of Day 2. She describes that day as “Awesome, exhausting, memorable. My feet were sore from kicking cancer’s butt all day!” For someone who has had such an emotional and personal connection with breast cancer, the experience of walking into camp and raising the flag was, as Julie put it, “Amazing! Being a stage IV survivor, every step is an accomplishment. Walking into camp was like going home…to my 3-Day family!” Julie will be walking this year in San Diego for the first time. She also shared this very important message: “I always support the 3-Day event specifically because 75% [of net proceeds raised] goes to support research, which is literally keeping me alive. The treatment I’m on now is a new drug that is a result of Komen research dollars at work!”

Julie (middle)

Julie (middle)

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On Day 3, walkers end at the Participant Finish Area before heading into Closing as one big group, but we still announce and celebrate the arrival of the last walkers. At the Philadelphia 3-Day last year, the last walker on Day 3 was none other than Aubrey Cushing, our very own Seattle 3-Day coach. Philly was her 8th 3-Day (she’ll be walking there again this year for #9), and she says this about her condition as she neared the end of her 60 miles last year: “It was so hard. My feet were blistered and bleeding. I finally decided to take off my shoes and walk barefoot the last five miles into closing.” Aubrey told me about what continued to push her through to the end: “I loved the Philadelphia community, so that made it much easier to endure the mileage. Besides that, I had a great teammate that walked almost every step of the way with me. Towards the end of the day, the three of us on my team made sure we held hands and crossed the finish line together. My husband, two sisters-in-law, brother-in-law, nieces and nephew were all there, plus all of the crew and other walkers. It was the most magnificent moment ever. I was walking for a friend of the family who was going through a difficult battle with breast cancer. All weekend long when it got tough to walk, I kept thinking, “Vanessa Strong, Vanessa Strong, Vanessa Strong.” Vanessa is a thriving survivor today and I am so inspired by her strength when things got tough.”

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Aubrey (center), hand in hand with her teammates.

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Whether you’re the first walker to finish, the last walker, or one of the thousands somewhere in between, every step you take is bringing about tremendous impact and making a difference. And whether you raise the flag or cheer for someone else who does, every one of us can share in celebrating the small victory of being one day closer to ending breast cancer.

Getting Down to the Business of Fighting Back – Carla’s Story

Carla Kelley, who will be walking the 3-Day for the fifth time in San Diego this November, shared her inspiring story with us. #WeAreThe3Day

“In January 2006, at the age of 34, I felt I finally had it all. I had a wonderful man, a career that I loved and I was pregnant for the first time. In my book, things couldn’t have been better. Then on February 14, 2006, at my first pre-natal visit, a lump was found in my breast. I was scheduled right away for an ultrasound and biopsy. I thought, “It can’t be breast cancer, I’m pregnant!”

“But breast cancer doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re young or old, rich or poor. It doesn’t care about the color of your skin or even if you’re a male or female. And it certainly doesn’t care if you’re pregnant.

“When the doctor told me that I did have breast cancer, my perfect little world came crashing down all around me and I was in complete shock. But I bounced back quickly and started getting down to the business of fighting back. I was assigned my own small army of specialists in oncology and obstetrics and we began researching treatment options. The fact that I was pregnant was going to be a challenge, as was determining what treatments I could or could not receive. Within two weeks we were able to find the answers we were looking for and on April 3, 2006, when I was well into my second trimester, I had surgery to remove the tumor.

“My surgery went well and the baby was doing great. As soon I healed from surgery I began a chemotherapy treatment that my doctors and I determined would not harm my baby. My obstetrician monitored the baby weekly during and after my treatment and she came through everything beautifully. The chemotherapy however took a toll on me and my body. I went into labor early and Hannah was born on August 9, 2006 at 35 weeks. She weighed in at 4 pounds and 13 ounces, but thankfully there were no complications whatsoever!Carla Kelley

“After giving birth I had one more surgery to make sure my margins were clear, then finished my chemotherapy. Six weeks of radiation soon followed and finally all of my treatments were at an end. I was both relieved and scared at the same time. No more poking, no more prodding, and no more being zapped…but wait, if I’m not being treated, will the cancer come back?

“To help fight back against cancer, I started participating in the EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women. I loved it so much and found so much support through participating that I began running the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Dodger Stadium, and started walking in the Komen 3-Day in San Diego.walk3

“It was at the 3-Day where I met the most amazing group of women and their families, and ultimately joined their team, Saving 2nd Base. Their friendship, love and support have been an incredible source of strength for me, more than they will ever know. I’ll be forever thankful for having met them: Shari, Karin, Barbara, Laurie, Carrie, Jill, Amber, Mark, Ashley. And all of the men behind these women: Bill, Rick, Norbert, Wayne and all of their children. Thank you and I love you all!

“I am now 10 years cancer-free. I’ve long since completed all of my treatments and have graduated to having blood tests only once a year now along with yearly mammograms. I will forever be so grateful to all of my friends, family, doctors and nurses for the wonderful care and support they provided for me and my baby.”walk1

Sandy and the “Ribbon Effect”

Last year on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, we began a new tradition of sharing Promise Ribbons, a colorful, simple yet touching way for walkers and crew members to share their hopes and promises with each other and their supporters. But for Sandy Kazinski, a 12-time 3-Day walker from New York, sharing ribbons has been a tradition that has spanned many miles for years before Promise Ribbons came on the scene.2015_3DAY_TCSat_EDB (41)

Easily recognizable on the 3-Day in her ribbon-covered hat, Sandy has personally made and shared thousands of pink ribbon pins with other walkers.

I had the chance to meet Sandy at the Twin Cities 3-Day last August and find out the story behind her ribbon fixation. “I was always sending little thank you notes to donors and I wanted to send something fun and something personal with them.” She would find little breast cancer items to send—pads of sticky notes and other knick-knacks—all marked in some way with pink ribbons, but she started to feel like those weren’t personal enough. She decided to start including an actual pink ribbon with a pin, and the idea quickly snowballed. Not content to use just solid pink either, Sandy began seeking out fun patterns. “I got online and I was finding this website and that ribbon site and this gift shop and I just got a little…crazy obsessive?” Sandy said with a laugh.sandy's ribbons 2

Spools of ribbons. Dozens of designs. Piles of safety pins. It became Sandy’s nightly routine to sit and watch the 11 o’clock news, cutting and pinning ribbons the whole time. Every night. She would pin during commutes. She would pin on winter days in New York with the snow falling outside her window. Before long, the ribbons vastly outstripped the number of donors she had to send them to. So her ribbon-sharing expanded.

Sandy started handing out ribbons on training walks she hosted. She participates in other breast cancer events, including the NYC Race for the Cure® and hands out ribbons there. And she began mailing ribbons—bagfuls at a time—to 3-Day walkers in other cities. It started with people she knew or had met on her many 3-Days throughout the country, but soon the ribbon mailings spread to include strangers too. “I go onto the message boards,” Sandy shared. “If I see somebody’s story, or see that somebody has been helpful to somebody else (volunteering to be a tentmate, or offering someone a ride from the airport), I’ll send them ribbons.” There are 3-Day walkers whom Sandy has never met, in every 3-Day location, who have been surprised by a baggie of pink ribbons in their camp mail. “I just pick and send. Because honestly, what am I going to do with all those ribbons?”sandy's ribbons

Exactly what kind of numbers are we talking about here? I asked Sandy how much ribbon she starts with at the beginning of a new 3-Day year. “Gosh, I don’t know. Too much! My coffee table is still filled with it. I buy safety pins from Amazon. Normally it is just one box of 10 gross (1,440 pins). This year, I did 2 boxes, 2,880 pins, and I used them all. It’s a little crazy, a little obsessive.” All told, there are probably close to 10,000 “Sandy ribbons” out there, pinned to various bulletin boards, shirts, lanyards, hats and packs around the nation.

Sandy admits that she doesn’t really remember WHY she got so caught up in this pink ribbon frenzy. She doesn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but her decade-and-a-half involvement with the 3-Day and other breast cancer events has led to friendships and personal connections in every corner of the U.S. And she doesn’t show any signs of stopping her pinning mania. What started as a cute way to say thank you to donors has turned into something much bigger.

“I give ribbons out constantly because they start and continue the very important dialogue—self-exam, who am I walking for, how I got involved, what Komen does with funds raised, how you take care of your breast health. I will keep pinning! I have a few dozen yards of new ribbon patterns. I wear a new ‘Sandy Hat’ each year, made up of the current year’s ribbon patterns which are being doled out around the country.” And remember that in the midst of all of the pinning, Sandy is also diligently training and fundraising for the 3-Day (this year, she’ll be walking in San Diego, her 13th 3-Day). Across the many cancer events she has participated in since 1999, she has personally raised over $110,000.2015_3DAY_TCSat_EDB (43)

It has a ripple effect, a pay-it-forward kind of influence where it doesn’t stop with just one person. It starts with Sandy, but these ribbons have made it to walkers, cancer patients and survivors, and hundreds of friends whom she has never met. Sandy says, “It’s the gift that keeps giving!”

What advice does Sandy have for someone who is thinking about doing the 3-Day? “Attend a Get Started call or meeting and raise your hand and ask a question. Walk a training walk. Push yourself—whether it’s physically or from the fundraising perspective. You will never know your potential until you try. You will surprise yourself every step of the way, pun intended. Know that you never ever walk alone. I used to say that I would want someone like me fighting like hell if the tables were turned. I don’t have to be out there doing this, but I will continue to fight this fight.  And I’d want someone doing the same for me.”