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.”

Introducing #WeAreThe3Day

One of the most inspiring and heartwarming aspects of the 3-Day community is that each walker, crew member and supporter has a story. The reasons they walk, the connections they have made, the experiences that the 3-Day has given them—all of these small pieces make the 3-Day family a beautiful patchwork of unforgettable celebrations.

As beautiful as the full 3-Day “quilt” is, there is also so much to be gained by taking a closer look at the individual squares that make it up.

This is where #WeAreThe3Day comes in.

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This hashtag is a way for us to share stories and remember the things that join us together while celebrating the things that make us unique.

We are the 3-Day, and we want to hear from you!

When we gather and share a little corner of the world for 3 days at a time, we get to know each other as much and as well as we can. Our goal is to share some of your stories with our whole online 3-Day family. But it’s impossible for us to meet and share with everyone. That’s where you come in.

Send us a little piece of you.

Tell us something about you and your connection with breast cancer and the 3-Day.

Something that stands out, that makes you you.

Something about you that a fellow 3-Dayer might see out on event and ask, “What’s the story there?”

Or, something that wouldn’t be obvious at all from the outside, but can only be learned by talking to you.

Send an email to blog@The3Day.org with “#WeAreThe3Day” in the subject line. Attach one or two hi-res photos from a 3-Day event, and share something about yourself or your team.

If you need a little inspiration, take a look at some of the #WeAreThe3Day posts we’ve already shared.

"We got married 3 weeks ago. This is our 60-mile honeymoon." ❤️ #The3Day #SEA3Day #WeAreThe3Day

A photo posted by Susan G. Komen 3-Day (@komen3day) on

"I'm everyone's angel. I stay out here until the last walker comes through." #The3Day #SEA3Day #WeAreThe3Day

A photo posted by Susan G. Komen 3-Day (@komen3day) on

"I won't be a virgin walker anymore after today! I'm hooked forever!" – Chrissy, 3-Day walker #The3Day #SD3Day #WeAreThe3Day

A photo posted by Susan G. Komen 3-Day (@komen3day) on

We’ll be posting your stories with #WeAreThe3Day on Facebook, Twitter and here on the blog in the months to come.

Memory of a Mother: Mary Beth & Nicole

How would you describe your mother in just one word? If Mary Beth Nardoni had to be described in just one word, it would be kind. “She was a Special Ed teacher, and she had a heart of absolute gold. She started a Brownie troop for Special Ed students, because nobody else had the time to put it together. She got all of the uniforms donated, because most of the parents couldn’t afford them. At Christmas time, she made sure others had before we did. She would give you the shirt off her back,” said her daughter, Nicole.

It was 1998 when Mary Beth found a lump in her breast. “My mom said to me, ‘Cole, I feel something. And the crazy part is, I know it’s cancer.’” Because she didn’t have health insurance, Mary Beth couldn’t go to the doctor until several months later, where it was confirmed that her hunch was right: Mary Beth had breast cancer.

A deeply private person, Mary Beth didn’t want to concern herself with numbers, stages, or statistics. By the time she received treatment and had surgery to remove the tumor and her lymph nodes, the cancer had spread to a stage four. Yet Mary Beth refused to let her cancer get her down. “It’s just cancer, it doesn’t matter,” she would say, continually battling the disease with her head held high. Mary Beth battled for years, going in and out of remission.

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Mary Beth, throughout the years. Photos courtesy of Nicole Hercules

When Nicole was getting ready to leave for a long awaited vacation in Cancun, she heard that her mother wasn’t doing well after a procedure and considered cancelling her trip. When Mary Beth got wind of this, she quickly checked herself out of the hospital, told Nicole she was fine, and sent Nicole on her trip. As soon as Nicole was out of the country, Mary Beth checked herself back in to the hospital. She refused to let her illness affect her daughter’s vacation, later saying, “Don’t worry about me. It’s just cancer, and I didn’t want you to miss your trip.”

In March of 2004, Mary Beth fell down in a parking lot and broke her arm. She had been told she was in remission, but didn’t continue receiving scans as she didn’t have health insurance. When she broke her arm, she had bone scans and it was discovered that the cancer was back. Nicole flew to Oklahoma on April 1, and that’s when she learned her mother was dying. “On April 19 at 7:30 pm, I told the doctors to administer the morphine. On April 20, she passed away and I was there to hold her hand. I told her that I loved her. She gave me the greatest gift that day – because she was there to see me take my first breath, and I was there to see her last.”

It took Nicole a few years to heal, and she participated in her first Komen event, the Chicago Race for the Cure, in 2009. In 2010, she did her first 3-Day walk in Chicago. In 2011, she walked the 3-Day in Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, and then in 2013, Nicole’s dad passed away of lung cancer. The tragic loss of both of her parents prompted Nicole to walk all seven 3-Day events in 2014, and she was invited to speak at the Opening Ceremony about how cancer has personally affected her family.

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Nicole speaks at Opening Ceremony in a 2014 3-Day

Nicole’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, 2015. Her sister was HER2 positive, and is now in remission. Her sister will now be tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene, and then Nicole can be tested, as well. (Insurance stipulations sometimes require positive test results from an immediate family member before the expensive test is covered.) Despite still waiting for the BRCA gene test, Nicole took preventative measures. “I became a previvor with a prophylactic double mastectomy on June 1st 2015. We lost an aunt to Ovarian cancer, and with my family, it was just too much.”

“It hasn’t been easy, choosing to have them taken off. I’ve had four surgeries, and necrosis, and a bunch of other stuff, but you know what? I’d take this any day over cancer.”

When faced with unimaginable loss, Nicole chose to stay and fight. In the past eight years, she has raised over $41,000 through the 3-Day, funding dozens of life-saving treatments and ground-breaking research. “I don’t do this because I think it’s fun or cute. I don’t do this to wear a pink tutu around town. That’s not why I do what I do. I do what I do so that my children will never have to hear, ‘you have breast cancer.’”

And that’s exactly why we do what we do, Nicole; so that you, your children, our children, our aunts, our mothers, our fathers, our friends, our sisters, or our brothers never have to hear, “you have breast cancer.”

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This Mother’s Day, make the commitment to helping us end breast cancer forever. If you’re a first-time walker, use the code BYB16 by May 9th to receive a free round trip plane ticket to the 3-Day. If you last walked between 2008 and 2014, you may also be eligible for free airfare by using code SPRING16. Check your 3-Day email for details. You can also change your profile picture on your social media accounts to support moms everywhere, via Susan G. Komen. Click here to try it now.