Let 3-Day walker Heidi S. put a little JOY in your heart this December

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.

60 Miles, a 60th Birthday, and Ending a 20-Year Hiatus: The Story of Rebecca W.

Rebecca and her best friend Elayne walked their first Breast Cancer 3-Day in 2000, one year before Elayne received her breast cancer diagnosis. Twenty years later, Rebecca is celebrating her 60th birthday by walking 60 miles in honor of Elayne’s life. She shares with us Elayne’s story and what she has taken away since her friend’s passing.  

How did you first become involved in the 3-Day? 

Twenty-one years ago, my dear friend Elayne and I decided to walk 60 miles over three days and raise money for research to cure breast cancer. That was our first year as part of the 3-Day family. We were training partners, tentmates, and each other’s cheerleader as we prepared and walked in Washington, D.C. on a sweltering 108-degree day in May of 2000. Elayne was amazing — crossing that finish line looking like she could do another 60 miles while I really struggled with the heat. Elayne inspired me, and I crossed the finish line with her.   

Why are you walking this year? 

I was trying to decide how I’d like to celebrate my 60th birthday this November 21st. the idea of walking with my husband by my side and my adult children there to celebrate with us, crossing the finish line after walking 60 miles on my 60th birthday in San Diego (where I was born) definitely spoke to me. I expect I will feel Elayne’s support the entire way! I’ve walked only once before, and I’m excited to walk again this year and as many years in the future as I can. 

Can you share Elayne’s story with us? 

It was within just one short year of walking with Elayne in the Breast Cancer 3-Day that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent the next twenty years bravely fighting and winning round after round, all the while earning another master’s degree. She was so passionately dedicated to her new career in nursing and public health. Cancer did not define her, but her positive attitude and living life to the fullest did. Sadly, Elayne passed away earlier this year in May. Her family and so many friends joined to celebrate her life, and now I am coming full circle to honor her memory and raise money to support this most important cause of ending breast cancer. 

How do you honor Elayne during the 3-Day? 

Walking was significant in Elayne’s life! A five-mile loop around a lake near her house was where many friendships were nurtured and how lasting connections were made between Elayne and her family and closest friends. Simply walking honors my friendship with Elayne. Doing my part to raise money for research to cure cancer is how I honor her incredible life.  

If you could share a message with the Pink Bubble, what would it be? 

Live every day to the fullest;, that’s what Elayne did. Be grateful for every single day, for it is a gift. 

The significance of walking 60 miles for her 60th birthday is a special way to honor Elayne and live each day to the fullest. We will be celebrating Rebecca and all of those we walk for at the Susan G. Komen San Diego 3-Day! 

The 3-Day is more than just a walk for Marilyn, it’s a profound way for her to be of SERVICE

Continuing our “Word of the Year” series, this month Marilyn shares her story, and how the 3-Day represents a form of SERVICE to her. Marilyn’s taking her commitment to service seriously, participating in 24 3-Day events over the years, and joining us for the 3-Day this year.

Tell me about your 3-Day experience.

I started my journey in 2011 in Philadelphia knowing almost nothing about Susan G. Komen’s mission. I was simply walking 60 miles because a girlfriend asked me to walk with her. I was hooked after that first walk! Then I went on to walk in Tampa Bay with my daughter-in-law and then again and again and again…all across the country, doing numerous walks each year (in 2017, I did all 7!). I have now completed 24 3-Days. I am signed up to walk and am fully-funded for the 2021 3-Day in San Diego.

What is your 2021 word of the year?

My word for 2021 is SERVICE.

Why is that your word of the year?

I have learned over the years that my soul sings happiness when I am doing things to be of service to others. I know that when I am helping others, love and kindness spreads exponentially. For instance, I am part of a group that provides Christmas bags for 200 less fortunate women in our area each year. Naturally, it helps the women for whom we get to do this service; it also helps each of us remember how blessed we are and that we are able to joyously share our bounties. And it also is a wonderful connecting project for the women around the country who send a bounty of love and products to help fill the bags. The friends I’ve met through Komen and the 3-Day are unbelievably generous.

Also, by being a mentor to other women in the addiction community, I have the ability to see women grow and flourish and then watch them mentor others. We all give and receive constantly.

Why do you participate in the 3-Day?

I participate in the 3-Day because, as a breast cancer survivor (along with surviving facial melanoma and uterine cancer), I must give back to the community of those ahead of me who made the research possible for new and improved methods of treating this disease that saved my life and millions of others. I must be part of an organization that continues to fund researchers to find the cure, and that helps in communities across the country with the everyday struggle for people finding their way after they have heard those crushing words “You have cancer.”

What does the 3-Day family mean to you?

The women and men I have met along the way over these past 11 years have become my second heartbeat. I have never ever collectively met such a caring, loving, hilarious, energetic, service-oriented, superior group of people! My Komen friends motivate me to do more and do better. 

How does your word of the year connect to the 3-Day?

It is a blessing and an honor to do the service work of raising money for Susan G. Komen. To know that we are doing so much for so many people is awe-inspiring. To know that my grandchildren’s children may hear that their great-grandmother had breast cancer and ask, “what’s that?” is enough to keep me going long into my next decade.

By my walking these walks and walking all the training walks I do (I walked 2,020 miles in 2020 and I will do another 2,021 in 2021), more women have joined me on the 3-Day and they get to be of service. It just keeps getting better. I will admit that my age inspires younger people to get involved as they say, “Well, if she can do it, I can do it!”

If you could share a message with the Pink Bubble, what would it be?

Be kind. Be loving. Be of service. The world will become a better place and you will be part of the solution.

We want to know: How are you of SERVICE in your community? Check back next month for the next blog post in our “Word of the Year” series.