Thoughts From the Top of a San Diego Hill

Anyone who has walked in the San Diego 3-Day knows of the route’s infamous population of hills. The peaks treat San Diego walkers to some really breathtaking vistas and views of the Pacific Coast, but getting to the top can be grueling sometimes. Yesterday on Day 1, walkers conquered the notorious Torrey Pines hill, and Day 2 has its share of hefty inclines, including a doozy between the 5 and 6 mile marks. We positioned ourselves at the top this little slope and asked walkers how they felt at the top. The positivity of (most of) their answers surprised and delighted us!susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog thoughts from the top of a hill san diego

“It’s a beautiful hill.”

“Way to wake us up!”

“Best hill of the day.”

“Was that the best you guys could do?”

“Not bad! I don’t mind hills.”

“Awesome, love it every year!”

“Not long enough!”

“I loved it, we need more!”susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog thoughts from the top of a hill san diego

“Nice hill! We’re from Seattle, that was a nice hill.”

“Fantastic. Can we have another?”

“We love it! Good one!”

“You’re the devil…” (But she was smiling when she said it, so we take that as a positive!)

“Loved it! Same as last year. Still steep.”

“Can’t wait to do more in a few minutes. I’m thinking about going back down and doing it again.”

“Better now that we’re at the top!”

“That was a good little warm up.”

“The down side is worse than this.”

“We rocked that hill!”

“What hill?”

“I did not feel anything, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

“I’m gonna hitch a ride down with a sweep and do it again!”

“As long as we don’t roll back down, we’re good!”

“Bring it on!”

“Whoever put this on the route, we’re gonna hurt…” (Can we just put that down as a good-hearted, harmless threat?)

“Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!”susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog thoughts from the top of a hill san diego

And finally, an adorable couple approached, holding hands, and we asked if they held hands the whole way up. “A good part of it. We were kind of dragging each other.” Sounds like teamwork at its best!

Congrats and thank you to ALL of the San Diego walkers on all of the peaks you’ve conquered this weekend. Can’t wait to do it all again with you (including more hills…) tomorrow!

Congratulations to the San Diego 3-Day Top Fundraisers!

In the early hours of Day 1 of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® in San Diego, there was some concern that the weather was not going to cooperate. After a rainy night and early morning, the Opening Ceremony site was covered with puddles and a light drizzle continued to fall. But by the time the Ceremony had begun, the dark clouds had passed, leaving a dazzling blue sky and stunning sunrise. The change from gloomy to glorious was a fitting parallel to what many Komen 3-Day participants experience in their fundraising journeys: a concerning start, followed shortly by a lifting of the clouds and dazzling prospects ahead.

If that analogy is true for the average 3-Day® fundraiser, it’s even more fitting for the top fundraisers for the San Diego 3-Day, individuals and teams who shine through the clouds more brightly than anyone.

Top Individual Fundraiser

Susan G. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog san diego top fundraisers individual

Michelle (center), the Top Individual Fundraiser in San Diego

Michelle B., the captain of Team Michelle, has made remarkable strides in her five years as a 3-Day walkers. This year, she earned the distinction of top individual fundraiser, bringing in an amazing $42,212. Across her five events, she has raised a lifetime total of $57,072. In addition to growing her fundraising total, Michelle has grown her team from 14 their first year (2010) to 35 this year, including her nephew, who traveled from Kansas with his mom to participate as part of the San Diego Youth Corps this weekend.

Top Fundraising Team

Susan G. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog san diego top fundraisers team Powered by Optimism

Representatives from PBO (left three), including team captain Amy B. (center)

It’s hard to walk around the San Diego 3-Day without seeing the name Powered by Optimism. The San Diego 3-Day’s largest team with 109 members, Powered by Optimism, or PBO as they’re known, was also the top fundraising team in San Diego this year, raising $302,745. The team, led by captain Amy B. (who was also the Top Training Walk Leader in San Diego this year) is in its 5th year as team, and has raised a grand total of $901,291 in that time. Wow!

Top Crew Fundraiser

Susan G. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog san diego top fundraisers crew

Top Crew Fundraiser, Carol B. (left)

It’s worth mentioning, in case anyone isn’t aware, that 3-Day crew members, while encouraged to raise moneyas part of their crew commitment, are not required to raise a cent. This reality makes the $15,017 that was raised by Top Crew Fundraiser Carol B., all the more astonishing. Carol, a member of the Traffic Control crew team, is participating in her 9th event over her 8 years with the 3-Day, and is a 10 year survivor.

(Side note: In addition to Carol, there are two other crew members who have raised more than $10,000 in San Diego this year. Our heartfelt thanks go to Lori O. and Sandi S., both members of the sweep crew team, who each raised $10,102.01, more than 3 times what is required of individual walkers. Amazing!)

Congratulations to all of these extraordinary members of the 3-Day family, and every San Diego 3-Day participant who raised money this year. With you, we are all that much closer to our goal of ending breast cancer in our lifetimes.

“She might not get a miracle, but she could be a miracle for someone else.”

Warning: this story may make you cry.

It will make you sad. It should make you angry. It should fill you with frustration and grief, as it did me when I met Lisa L. on the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day, then sat down to speak with her at length.

Lisa and her friend Brittney walk as part of team “Sasha 26.” Sasha is Lisa’s daughter. 26 is how old she was when she was taken by breast cancer.

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk 60 miles blog sasha lehocky

Brittney (left) and Lisa (right), representing team Sasha 26

Hearing Lisa recount the particulars of Sasha’s breast cancer journey—diagnosed Stage III at 23 years old after months of needless run-around and delays (as is often the case because she was so young, Sasha’s lump was dismissed and an initial mammogram denied); a rapid spread of the disease to her lymph nodes and lungs; surgeries and multiple chemotherapies—it’s unmistakable how closely Lisa was involved in everything that happened during the three years between 2010 and 2013. She sounds like a medical journal, the way she details specifics about the different diagnoses, tests, medications and procedures, but it’s the passion and indignation in her voice that can only come from a mother, especially when the news was as bad as it could be.

“She went from a clean bill of health to, you have 4-12 months to live.” Sasha’s cancer had metastasized into a rare form that was extremely difficult to treat, and extremely painful for Sasha. “It’s devastating to think you’ve won this battle only to be knocked down again…” The pain was real for Lisa too, being a mother whose daughter was, in many ways, forsaken by much of the medical community and ultimately was taken too soon.

I wanted to know more. I wanted to learn what would bring a mother to an event like the 3-Day. As Lisa told me, “The 3-Day is a huge thing for the community itself, but I’m still grieving for my daughter, and to be totally honest, I don’t feel like celebrating breast cancer. My daughter’s not a survivor. I’m a mom who fought for my daughter to live, and it’s hard to be part of the whole excited part.”

It’s completely understandable. With two daughters of my own, I could not imagine the grief and agony of losing a child. But here Lisa is, moving forward, about to tackle the final 4 miles of the route on blistered feet.

She is quick to point out that “Walking wasn’t my idea.” Lisa and Brittney are both Air Force Reserve officers in Texas (Sasha was also enlisted in the Air Force). “My unit has been so supportive of me with my daughter going through breast cancer and passing away. My unit just rallied around me. It’s a big unit, there are 250 of us, but Brittany had heard of Sasha’s story, and when I returned to the unit after Sasha had passed, she came up to me and told me that she was going to walk in Sasha’s name.” Brittney smiles subtly and sits quietly as Lisa continues. “I asked her who she was going to walk with. I mean, you don’t walk 20 miles a day, times three, alone. So I asked her who she was walking with, and she said, ‘By myself,’ and I thought, I just can’t let her do that. She’s doing this for my daughter. I need to be with her, to do it also, to help carry my daughter’s name for 60 miles.”

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk 60 miles blog sasha lehocky

Lisa has her beautiful daughter’s image tattooed on her arm

So Lisa signed up. She and Brittney went quickly from being acquaintances to teammates, and got to training and fundraising. “We raised money through all kinds of ways—through our unit, through our families, churches, neighborhoods.”

Brittney had her own connections to breast cancer as well. “I have three breast cancer survivors in my family. I know not everyone is as fortunate. I have these three women in my life today, so I realize how blessed I am to have them, because they could just as easily not be here. I’m really grateful that they’re here. There are plenty out there who don’t have that opportunity. They don’t have that chance.”

Lisa and Brittney’s friendship, cemented by this shared experience, is evident. Brittney laughs, “Yeah, there’s no turning back now! We can’t just see each other after this and go, ‘Oh, we only walked 60 miles together, no biggie!’ There’s no going back after that.” Lisa adds, “I have a deep respect for Brittney. She was going to do this by herself. She was inspired by the women that survived, and inspired by a young woman that didn’t. That, I think, proves a lot about her character and her spirit. I respect her for doing all that.”

I asked Lisa what Sasha would have thought about her doing the 3-Day. “Sasha would’ve been right here with me, and not once would she have complained about her blisters,” she answered with a chuckle. “Sasha was pretty tough. She never complained. Never complained, never said a harsh word, and she smiled throughout the whole thing. People would ask her, ‘Sasha, how are you?’ and she would answer, ‘Very well, thank you. How are you?’ And I would think, you’re not well! But she immediately asked about them instead. She was a beautiful soul, and I’m very proud of her. It’s funny, because I used to try and make her into a ‘mini me,’ now I’m trying to be like her!” I think that’s really beautiful.

“I’m trying to be like my daughter now. Like I said, she fought this disease, and she asked the doctors not to give up on her. Dr. Santosh Kesari [a San Diego-based neuro-oncologist] never did. He never gave her a time limit. And I think that’s what helped. That’s why she lived for 19 months, instead of the 4-12 months the other doctors gave her. He never put a time stamp on her.” To have finally found doctors willing to take on Sasha’s aggressive case was a big step, even if it came late. “They tried some things that other doctors wouldn’t try, and they slowed down the cancer. And now they’re doing it for other patients. On tumor boards, they still talk about Sasha today. From all the procedures and the chemos they tried on her, they were able to extrapolate what happens to the body when they go through these procedures. What happens to the cancer.”

“Sasha surprised everyone. She amazed everyone. Every time she walked through the door, they were just amazed by this young woman. Her strength, her courage, her grace.”

I asked Lisa what she would take away from the 3-Day experience. “I will always cry for just me and my daughter, but from here, I take away the bigger community, the bigger aspect of what breast cancer does to other lives as well. Because for me, it’s just my daughter. But I know other people get cancer, I know that. It’s invasive. It knocks everybody for a loop. But yet, it just brings everybody together too. They stand up and say, ‘Let’s get on with this!’ There’s a bigger camaraderie here, and so much more. You’re able to honor people.

“I knew it was a fundraising event, but actually, it’s more than that. I think these women come for bonding moments, they come for support, they come because they don’t want their daughters to have breast cancer. There was a lady we met on the trail who was walking by herself. We asked her why she was walking, and she said, ‘I just wanted to.’ She couldn’t get anybody to commit to do it with her, but she did. She just did it! That’s pretty remarkable. You meet special people, because it takes someone special to do this.”

We’re interrupted by a woman who politely asked, “Excuse me, are you walkers?” Lisa and Brittney acknowledged that they were, and the woman thanked them for walking. She was visiting Dallas, and had no idea the 3-Day was in town. She was an 8-year survivor who happened to find herself in the same park as our Day 3 lunch stop. It was a brief, 20-second exchange, and when she walked away, Lisa looked at me and said, “It’s moments like that.”

Brittany, meanwhile, had been sitting quietly, listening to Lisa’s story with the attentiveness and respect of someone who hadn’t heard it many times already. I asked her what she would take away from the 3-Day. “The camaraderie. People who gave their time to come out and support you. Just little things. Handing you a bottle of water. We saw one house that just had a pink polo shirt hanging outside. Just little things like that, just saying hey, we know what you’re doing and we appreciate it. That camaraderie is amazing.”

I asked, “It may be too soon to think about this, but do you think you’ll do it again?” Lisa laughed again (a nice sound), and said “I think once my blisters are healed and I’ve forgotten the pain! We’ll definitely do it again. We will. And maybe we can get a bigger group together, because now we kind of know the ropes. I think with our experience, we might be able to recruit more people next year.” Brittney added, “It’s a challenge, it is. But it’s well worth it. Because we can. That’s the big thing. I’m still here to walk, so why not?”

Lisa went on, “I just admire every person that comes out here. Women and men of all ages. What is inspiring is that they know they’re going to hurt. They already know. They know it’s going to be rough and be a trial, but they’re going to do it anyway. They do it over and over again, they keep plugging away at it until it’s something that—until breast cancer isn’t a death sentence to some of us.”

I ended our conversation by expressing my gratitude to Lisa for sharing her story. I told her that I know that this has probably been a really difficult weekend for her in a lot of ways, and, I hope, a good one in a lot of other ways. Her willingness to share was so important, because I think a lot of people need to hear that the story doesn’t end as well for some.

But I told Lisa her story’s not over. She replied, “Sasha did a lot for the medical community. She did a lot for teaching her mom a few lessons, and I think she taught others. Sasha said to me that she might not get a miracle, but she could be a miracle for someone else.”

I think that’s pretty clear.