Meet Jen B., a Preventative Mastectomy 3-Day Walker

Jen Besserman first learned about the Susan G. Komen 3-Day via her boyfriend’s mother, Karen. Karen has walked in 24 different 3-Day events for the past 15 years, but Jen’s connection to the fight to end breast cancer goes deeper. “My grandmother is a breast and ovarian cancer survivor, and she just turned 88. A few years ago, my mom found out she and my grandmother were BRCA1+, and last year I found out that I too share the gene,” said Jen.

Jen wasn’t surprised, as she had a feeling she might have it. “Right when I found out, I called my mom and dad and they were more upset than I was. I told them everything would be fine. I didn’t really think too much about it until I met with my genetic counselor and learned more about the gene.” After meeting with her genetic counselor, Jen did the difficult task of putting her emotions aside, and looked at the facts presented to her by her doctors. “The fact was that I had an 86% chance of getting breast cancer and if I chose to have preventative surgery, that risk would go down to under 5%. Those numbers alone sold me on the surgery…and I met incredible surgeons so it was a win-win for me. It also helped that I lived close to the mecca of plastic surgery, Beverly Hills. This made my decision easier as well,” she said.

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Jen’s mom Susan knew about her BRCA gene mutation for nine years, but hadn’t thought about a double mastectomy before. While she had opted to have an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries), Jen said once she had made up her mind about her surgery, she called her mom and said, “Why haven’t you done this? It lowers our risk 95%. It’s a no brainer!”

Once Jen’s mom knew more about the surgery, she realized it made sense for her, too – so she opted to move forward, and chose to do it before Jen so that she could tell Jen what to expect. Susan is a professional baker and candy maker for her company “Susie’s Sweet Shoppe” in New York, and according to her daughter, has the “most positive attitude – all the time.” While there were no decisions made lightly about both Jen and Susie’s treatments, they found the process brought them together. “We are close and I feel that this surgery brought us even closer, not just because she flew in from New York and stayed with me in Santa Monica for four weeks to take care of me, but because we now have this bond.”

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Susan will be flying from New York to walk the San Diego 3-Day with Jen. Jen is a graphic designer at an advertising agency in Santa Monica, and her hobbies are painting, riding her bike along the beach path, anything related to music, and being surrounded by friends and family. Her fundraising efforts have been successful so far, and Jen is at 87% of the way to her goal. “On my one- year anniversary of my preventative double mastectomy in February, I shared a post on social media and let my friends and family know that I will be participating in the walk in November. Everyone has been very generous.”

What made Jen want to walk, besides her own personal connection to the cause? “Well, I like to try anything once. You never know if you will like or dislike something until you try it! I had the pleasure of witnessing the Closing Ceremony this year and the speeches almost brought me to tears and motivated me to participate next year. Plus half of the walk is by the beach, so the beautiful view will hopefully distract you from your sore muscles,” she laughs.

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“When I showed up to the 3-Day a few months ago, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved. The energy and camaraderie that I walked into was incredible. I can’t wait to officially walk in November.” And we can’t wait to have you and your mother join us, Jen; and we’re grateful to you and others like you for so bravely sharing your story, and being a part of the fight.

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Best Friends and 3-Dayers: Meet Christi K. and Her Bestie from Cassie’s Cups

There are a few things that almost everyone loves. Chocolate and best friends are two of those things.

For Christi Kokaisel, chocolate and besties go hand and hand. Christi and her best friend Cassie walked side by side in more than five 3-Day journeys in the Twin Cities with lots of chocolate close at hand.

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Cassie was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24 years old in 2010. She was diagnosed two more times over the next six years, but that never stopped her from being a mom, friend, and 3-Day team leader for Cassie’s Cups. Over the years, the team size ebbed and flowed, but their love of chocolate and each other never wavered. Christi says this was largely due to Cassie’s strength and passion.

“She was kind of that perfect best friend. She was very opinionated but always very sweet and caring. She would remember things like me having a presentation at work and call me on that day and ask about it. Things that other people don’t remember,” said Christi.

“She was also very proud that she always went into work and lived a normal life, even when she was going through treatment. She wanted everything to be as normal as it could be.”

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Cassie, Christi and their team are anything but normal, however, and in the best way.

Now well-known at the Twin Cities 3-Day, they always have peanut butter cups, Cassie’s favorite, on hand to keep their team, and others, going for every one of the 60 miles. Christi explains that even though she and Cassie jokingly referred to the 3-Day as their “second job,” they really saw the 3-Day as another family.

“As soon as you get to Opening Ceremony, and you step out there, you just become part of this giant family. You’re with a mass amount of people, but you’re all there for the same reason. Over those three days, it’s so motivating. As hard and sad as it can be, meeting all these people with stories to tell, you really do become a family.”

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Christi and all of Cassie’s Cups leaned on that 3-Day family last year, when they lost Cassie just a few weeks before the walk. Her father was able to walk in her place, and her absence was felt throughout the 3-Day, but Christi said it couldn’t have gone any other way.

“It would not have seemed right to not continue to do the walk. […] Despite the horrible things we had been through, there was something uplifting about fundraising and why we were walking. It was a renewed energy to pull it off, and it was a very inspiring event for us.”

This inspiration was especially important for the new walkers on their large team. Christi says that is what their team prides themselves on: never-ending support.

“We had some people last year who weren’t in the best shape but really wanted to walk. And I always tell people to just set goals for themselves. If you want to walk 10 miles a day, there are buses. They will take care of you! Set personal goals, and so long as you fundraise, you’ll be good. […] You’re there for the right reason, and you’ve fundraised, so do what you can.”

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Every little bit helps, and everything is encouraged on this team. Christi says questions about fundraising are one of the main concerns she still sees for all her team members, but she always encourages people not to get discouraged too early. Anything is possible!

“Especially for new walkers, you are tapping into a new family and group of friends so don’t underestimate the power of simply asking for donations. Sadly, everyone has a connection, and to know that someone is doing this walk is very inspiring. Especially with new walkers, you can see people do most of their fundraising just by asking.”

“We really do work as a team though. Once someone hits their goal, and someone else hasn’t, then I keep pushing for them. We really make sure that down to the last minute, we are pushing for everyone else. We lean on our team.”

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This year, Christi is once again hoping to be the largest team in the Twin Cities, but she’s also fulfilling a long-time goal of her and Cassie’s by walking in the San Diego 3-Day as well.

Last year, “it was really motivating to see how all of Cassie’s network of family and friends came together and did this.”

So this year, even if she won’t be able to walk alongside her best friend, she’ll always Cassie in her heart…along with peanut butter cups.

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An Outsider’s Guide to the 3-Day: If you’re new, what can you expect?

 

What is the 3-Day? It’s been called everything from “The Pink Bubble” to “Pinklandia” and more. Those who have walked or crewed or even seen the 3-Day experience each have their own feelings about the 60-mile life-changing journey. Those who haven’t can only look forward to the 3 days that lie ahead of them.  If you want a sneak peak of what’s to come (and who wouldn’t?), we are giving you a look from the outside in.

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On the 3-Day, you can expect…

To be challenged

For some people, training is the toughest part. For others, it’s fundraising. No matter who you are, raising money for a good cause and training for a good long walk, all while making new friends or working with existing ones, can be a lot to put on a to-do list. However, part of joining the 3-Day family is to challenge yourself! It’s in challenging yourself that you grow, find new strengths, and create a support system you’ll have long after you walk.

One tip is to identify what most scares or challenges you about the 3-Day, and really focus in on that. Stick to a training schedule and get a work out buddy to motivate you. Give yourself small fundraising goals and reward yourself when you hit them. Make new friends on your team by the end of the weekend. Whatever helps you, go for it and grow! Don’t forget that your coaches is an excellent resource for you if you need support in any way – you can find them on their Facebook pages, separated by walk, on these Facebook Event Pages, on our website at The3Day.org/Coaches or by calling 800-996-3DAY.

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To make lots of new friends

In speaking with coaches, walkers, and crew, everyone has a story of someone they have met and connected with on the walk. Some meet on training walks, others with a random tent-mate, at the dining table or along the route. The welcoming spirit is pervasive throughout the whole 3-Day experience, so lean in and go for it! Walk up to a stranger. Compliment someone’s shoes or tutu or team T-shirts. You never know, you could be meeting your brand new bestie.

To feel a whole lot of emotion

Yes, even those who claim to “never cry” might shed a tear or two, especially during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. That’s okay! Emotion is welcomed and encouraged at the 3-Day. You will meet survivors, people currently battling breast cancer, and people who have lost loved ones. Maybe you are one of those groups of people. Maybe that’s why you walk. No matter the reason that brought you to the 3-Day, you’ll likely get hit with all the feels on the walk – and we embrace it, because the 3-Day is healing.

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To be tired and sore

Walking 60 miles is no joke. No matter how fit you are, this will take a toll on your body. That is why it’s important to properly train, continuously hydrate, and pay attention to your body during each step. Also remember that there are Sweep Vans patrolling the entire route that can take you to the next rest stop, or camp, if you have walked as far as you can. We know you can do it, and we know you know yourself and just how far you can go. You got this!

To spread the love

Once you’ve walked the walk, you’ll want to talk the talk too. Tell your friends, your family, your doctors, teachers, dog walkers, book club, financial advisor, and anyone you can! Spreading the 3-Day love will help you recruit new team members, expand your fundraising list, and put smiles on people’s faces. You can also spread the love online by interacting with our community on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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To come back again

One of the greatest part of the 3-Day is seeing people year after year, and often times in multiple cities each year. Once you get hit with the 3-Day “bug,” you’ll probably want to come back for more. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself signing up for your tenth walk before you even know it! We’ll be happy to have you back, and welcome you into the 3-Day family with open arms every time.

What else would you add to our list for people new to the 3-Day to expect? Let’s hear it!