For the final entry in our “Word of the Year” series, we give the blog over to Heidi S., who has found JOY amidst profoundly difficult circumstances.
Hi. My name is Clear’ly Nuts, and I’m a 3-Day Addict. My journey with the 3-Day started in 2001 when my best friend Jennifer Clear was diagnosed with breast cancer about two weeks after her daughter was born. After a mastectomy, radiation, and too many brutal rounds of chemotherapy, she was pronounced cancer-free in 2002. Almost exactly five years after that pronouncement, she contracted metastatic breast cancer in her liver and passed away at 39.
I. Was. Angry. I wanted to do something. I NEEDED to do something, and it had to be something BIG. So in 2009, I signed up to walk in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. In order for me to sign up, I had to enlist the help of my family. I was a single mom, you see, of an orange-haired phenom named Noah. He, as my niece puts it, was “especially needed,” and he could not stay at home by himself (no matter how much he thought he could). With their help, I raised the funds and embarked on a 3-Day journey in Chicago, what I thought at the time was a one-and-done experience.
IT WAS HARD. IT WAS HOT, I was UNDERTRAINED, my feet were ACHING, and I VOWED TO THE DEPTH OF MY VERY SOUL that I would never, ever, EVER do it AGAIN. And then, in the very last mile of these 60 arduous miles[MS1] , it clicked. I walked—well, limped—whimpering, into the participant finish area, where hundreds of walkers, crew, staff, families and friends were screaming and cheering and celebrating. This tremendous outpouring of JOY, love, and celebration reached out and grabbed me by the heart (and the eyeballs, I was ugly crying, not going to lie) and dragged me over that finish line, screaming “YES! YOU DID IT! Now, sign up to do it again.”
So, I did. But this time? I got smart. I wised up. I found the leader of the ONE training walk I had gone on (yes, one, because who would need to train?) and begged her to let me join her team, the Coconutter Strutters. Well, not just me—us. Remember the orange-haired phenom? We came as a boxed set. He was my sidekick in all things, my wingman, my Little Biscuit. Anyway, she, possibly to her dismay, welcomed the two of us. And we became Coconuts.
So, I did it again. And again, and again and again. Noah and I, we trained, we raised funds, we walked in the Race for the Cure, and he became the Coconuts’ biggest fan. We became a part of the Coconutter Strutter family, and we began to make plans. When he turned 18, he would honor his “Aunt” Jenny’s memory by walking the Michigan 3-Day with his beloved Coconuts.
By that time, epilepsy had come. The constant seizures stole his walk, his voice, and his independence. But it did NOT steal his joy and laughter, love and light, and it did NOT steal his love for his Coconuts and for doing big things. I was scared. He used a wheelchair by then, and not independently. How was I going to do it? How was I going to push this Rollin’ Coconut all 60 miles? I was worried, but I had forgotten about one thing. The Coconuts. It was a forgone conclusion that, whatever Rollin’ wanted, Rollin’ got, and if he wanted to take the 60-mile journey, then by God, he would do so. So we signed up. And we fundraised, we plotted, we planned, we got excited, we became hopeful, and we started to get ready.
But Episucky had other plans for our Orange-Haired Teen, and in February 2016, the year he would have gone 60 miles with us, he left this Earth for bigger and better things. When he was sick and so very tired, I read the book “Waterbugs and Dragonflies,” written by an angel named Doris Stickney. This book explained to him what was happening, why he was getting so very tired, giving him permission to let go and become the Dragonfly, heading off to bigger and better things than what was here for him on Earth. He was comforted, and he stopped being scared and tired, and with the same sweetness, joy and laughter, love and light that he lived with, he winged off into the bright world of sun and air.
Being Rollin’ Coconut’s mom taught me so many things, but one of the biggest lessons is this: every day, no matter how hard it is, you get brave, you get up, and you get on with it. And you do it with joy and laughter, love and light. So, that’s what we, who were left here on Earth, have chosen to do. We took him in our hearts on our walk that year in Michigan, handing out the story and dragonflies to everyone we could, merging his joy with theirs.
Every year since then, we see those dragonflies on walkers’ packs and lanyards, and it warms our hearts. We have Dragonfly Moments on every walk—moments when we are tired, we *might* be a little cranky and sick of walking—and then we see a dragonfly. Hovering around us, bouncing off of our heads, dive bombing our faces, or resting on our hands, as if to say, “Get it together ladies! You got this! Find your joy! Get brave, get up and get on with it!” And we laugh, we find our joy, and we do exactly that.
Noah would have been 21 in 2018. In his honor, and in Jenny’s memory, I decided to step WAY out of my comfort zone and do a big thing. I decided to walk in all seven 3-Day cities that year. And my team, my amazing, glorious family of Coconuts? They plotted, planned, and they made it so.
On that seven-city journey, I learned that, while cancer sucks, there are thousands of people out there determined to make a difference in the fight. They have dedicated their lives, their time, talent and treasure to beating this unacceptable disease. They walk tirelessly, they fundraise relentlessly, and they have formed a joyful community—strangers who are family.
So, if you’ve read all that, you might have guessed that my word for 2021 is Joy. A tiny little word that packs a huge punch. Joy is a gift that should be given and received freely, with no reservation, and it binds us all together. Joy is contagious; it costs nothing, and once it is sparked within your heart, it will warm you to your very fingertips and toes.
My 3-Day community has brought sparks of joy to me in my darkest days, it has fanned its flames, and it has celebrated with me when it has raged like an inferno. My advice to all who are reading this in 2021: find your joy. It might be a spark in your darkest days, or an inferno in your brightest. Find it, share it, and it will be returned to you.
What brings you JOY in your dark days? How has the 3-Day community supported you when you needed it?Thank you for joining us for our “Word of the Year” series.