Route Hours, Cabooses, and Sweep Vans, Oh My! Behind the Scenes on the 3-Day Route

If you’ve been out on the 3-Day route before, you’ve likely noticed a bike with a pink flag that follows the line of walkers along the route. The caboose is a 3-Day staff member who rides behind our last walkers to make sure that everyone gets to each pit stop and back to camp in a safe and timely manner. Each year, in our post-event survey we often get questions about route hours, route safety, and sweep vans.

We wanted to take this opportunity to explain why we have some of the route procedures that we do, and also let you know about a change to our sweep vans and busses this year. We had some questions for two of our seasoned cabooses, Coach Gayla of the Dallas/Fort Worth 3-Day, and Robin, the 3-Day Crew & Volunteer Operations Manager, to get the inside scoop on why the caboose and our pit stop and route hours are such an important part of keeping our 3-Day family safe on the route.

Coach Gayla poses on the 2016 Michigan 3-Day with football team members who did an awesome job cheering on our walkers.

Is it “bad” if you end up near the caboose?

Of course it’s not bad to be walking near the caboose! We love company, but we don`t want walkers to lag along the route and get behind schedule. If we ride up behind you while you’re walking we’ll let you know that you’re the last walker and how we’re doing on time. If it looks like your pace won’t get you to the next pit stop before it closes, we’ll present you with options: to pick up the pace (we know this isn’t always possible) or to get in the next sweep van once it arrives. They will gladly give you a lift to the next pit stop so you can rest, refuel and rehydrate before the stop closes.

Have no fear if the caboose is near! Photo graciously provided by walker Robin Collison.

Why do pit stops close at a specific time?

We are required by the city to set up pit stops along the route during certain times of the day. We are not allowed to have them open 24 hours a day for all three days or even the 8-12 hours it takes you to walk the route. So we need to make sure that the walkers move along the route at a comfortable, but continuous pace, so that no one is on the route after dark, or after the pit stops have packed up and left or even after the police and route safety are scheduled to be done for the day. We also want to respect the time of the crew members out on the route so that they can get back to camp to enjoy dinner and festivities, too. You may not know it, but they’ve been out at that pit stop for hours before you came through, setting up and getting ready.

Our amazing crew members need breaks, too!

Why does the route open and close at specific, set times?

The route opens after sunrise and closes before sundown so that the walkers and crew will not be on the route in the dark. These times will vary from city to city, as daylight hours vary during the year. And there are other factors, like in Twin Cities on day one, the route is short so we close the route early, to keep the pace consistent across all three days. In San Diego, we keep the route open after sunset from the last pit stop into camp because it is partially lighted and we hand out flashlights.

A beautiful and balmy morning greets San Diego walkers as they leave camp for Day 2 of the 2016 3-Day.

I don’t like feeling rushed on the route. Can’t we just walk at our own pace and arrive when we want to?

I know it’s no fun to feel like you’re being tailed, but there’s a reason we keep the walkers on a schedule. We ask walkers to average a pace of 3 miles an hour in order to complete each day’s route before dark. In addition to safety reasons, remember, it’s not just you out there―from Pit Stop crew, Route Safety, local police, to Sweep and Route Marking, the volunteers are out there supporting you. We want to respect their time and energy and allow them to get back to camp to enjoy dinner and the festivities, and start again bright and early the next day.

Robin smiles with some of our energetic route support cheerleaders!

I worry that if I take a sweep van, it means I didn’t really “do” all 60 miles. What do you think?

While we know the most important thing is the funds we raise, we totally understand it can be disappointing to you personally if you don’t walk all 60 miles you set out to do. For your own safety, you may need to catch a lift on a sweep van for just a bit here and there, and then get back on the route and walk what you can. We want you to walk in to camp and the Closing Ceremony to experience the joy of the event, so don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. Your overall event experience will be far less enjoyable if you do.

We’ve also got a helpful hint for you! New this year: the Lunch and Camp Shuttles will be passenger vans instead of busses. If you can’t walk anymore and you’re done for the day, make your way to a pit stop, then catch a Shuttle van to lunch or camp. In the past these shuttles were large busses that used to wait at each route stop until the stop closed. Rather than waiting at each stop until it closes, the Shuttle vans will now leave each stop on a regular schedule. This will allow you to move forward to lunch or camp and keep moving forward more quickly.

There’s no shame in letting us sweep you off your feet.

We hope that helps clear up any questions about why we enforce our route and pit stop hours, and why the caboose and sweep vans are here to help. But if you do have any more questions, ask them below, and we’ll have our friendly coaches reach out to you with a response. Your safety is our number one priority―and we know that working together for a safe and incredible experience means we’re 60 miles closer to ending breast cancer forever.

Meet Lisa Partner, 3-Day Walker- and Breast Cancer Survivor

June is National Cancer Survivor Month, and is an excellent reminder of the strength, power and optimism we see from survivors on the 3-Day, and in all our own lives.

Race Pic 2012

We’d like to introduce you to Lisa Partner, a 3-Dayer and training walk leader from the Powered by Optimism team in San Diego. Lisa is a 12-year metastatic breast cancer survivor who has raised more than $23,000 for the 3-Day since her first walk in 2007.

 

Lisa found a lump in her breast when her daughter was only three months old, and after many doctors’ visits, tests and more, was finally diagnosed in early 2005. Her daughter was only 18 months old. From her initial discovery to her diagnosis, she admits that “cancer never really was in my thought process,” but it soon became a part of her everyday life.

Survivor Cred

A few months after her first surgery, Lisa explains “It was found that my cancer had spread to a single rib on the right side of my body. I was then restaged as metastatic. Due to restaging I will be on Herceptin indefinitely. After pondering my thoughts for a few months, I decided to have my right breast and ovaries removed.”

That initial reconstruction did not go smoothly, but Lisa has since seen more success with following reconstruction surgeries. Through it all, she has remained strong for herself and her family. Marianne Masterson, San Diego 3-Day coach, has sung Lisa’s praises for that immeasurable strength.

“Not only has Lisa confronted the trials associated with surgery and treatment, but also the stark odds that her daughter may be growing up without a mother. Lisa’s attitude was to do everything possible to stay alive to ensure this didn’t happen.”

Hug Lady

When she was able, Lisa joined the 3-Day in 2007, and since then has become an active participant, partaking in the Survivor Circle in 2010 and 2015, which she said was a “highly emotional” Experience. When talking about how being a survivor has affected her 3-Day experience, she explained,

“This is going to sound silly, but the walkers make me feel like a rock star. Funny, right?  Survivors are looked at as heroes, even though I don’t feel like one.  […]  Just the fact that so many people join together for a single cause is astounding.”

That feeling of community includes walker stalkers and other San Diego locals, who Lisa says are some of her favorite parts of the walk each year.

Mile 59 2016

“It is unique in that there are so many people coming together for a singular cause. And our community support here in San Diego is bar none!  We have the best city!”

Marianne summed it up best when she said, “Lisa is as dedicated to the cause as she is dedicated to living. She fully embraces living in the present and to me embodies everything the 3-Day represents!”

Opening pic

If you want to make a difference for a breast cancer survivor, or help someone battling breast cancer in your own life, Lisa says it’s very simple; just be present.

“Be available to listen, offer a positive attitude, and offer to do grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking meals.  Anything so that the person can focus on getting well.”

That is something Lisa focuses on every day. We are honored to have her in our 3-Day family during Cancer Survivor Month, and always.

 

 

From Sidewalks to Science: An On-Route Look at Komen’s Research Dr. Xiang Zhang

Opening Ceremonies

Dr. Zhang, can you tell us a bit about what led you to do breast cancer research?

 My mother was diagnosed with ER+ Stage II breast cancer in 2012. She is still undergoing treatment and luckily everything looks fine now. But as a breast cancer researcher, I know she is still at risk of recurrence, just as many other breast cancer survivors. Therefore, curing breast cancer, specifically metastatic breast cancer, has become the major focus of my research. As a co-survivor, I am committed to providing better outcomes for breast cancer patients like my mother.

On The Route

Since we’ve got some time, could you tell us a bit about your current research?

Our research is focused on a single question: How we can harness the immune system to fight breast cancer? The immune system has the ability to kill tumor cells. However, tumors have learned to “hide”  using help from  cells that “turn off” the immune system (immunosuppressive cells) allowing the tumor to survive.  In our work published in Nature Cell Biology we showed that targeting the immunosuppressive cells allows the immune system to do what it should be doing – killing tumor cells.

This approach will undoubtedly affect treatments relying on the immune system, including immunotherapies and some chemotherapies. We will continue to investigate how to target these immunosuppressive cells so that other therapies will work more efficiently. We will study how metastatic tumors differ from primary tumors in terms of recruitment of these immunosuppressive cells, helping us identify more effective strategies against metastatic breast cancer.

At Camp

Now that we’ve made it “home” for the night and are enjoying the support of our crew, can you tell us  how your work would be affected without Komen funding?

Komen research dollars were instrumental in establishing my work in immunotherapy. Komen not only funded our research, but also allowed me to assemble a team of senior scientists with the necessary expertise to advise us on the development of our research. This is tremendously important for a new lab to start in an unfamiliar field. I am very grateful and hope to continue to make contributions in this field to reward Komen’s support!

Day 2

What is the potential impact of this research for breast cancer patients?

I believe this approach can improve the ability of the immune response to defend itself against the tumor. An immune system capable of attacking tumor cells could also be effective at killing any tumor cells that have returned (recurrence) or that have spread (metastasized). To enhance anti-tumor immunity would allow us to enhance the effectiveness of several other therapies. We are investigating several different ways of achieving this goal, and working on getting one of these approaches to the clinic as soon as possible.

Cheering Station

Look at all of these enthusiastic supporters out along the route! Are you involved in any efforts related to cancer/breast cancer, outside of your lab?

Over the last four years, I have organized a breast cancer education program. The program invites breast cancer researchers at the Texas Medical Center (including Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer center and many other institutions) to a retreat where they present their research and receive feedback from faculty. The retreat also includes a nationally renowned keynote speaker every year.

To bring the patient voice to research, I have served as the Activity Director for the annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference. This nationwide conference provides a platform for patients, advocates, clinicians, and scientists to exchange ideas and discuss the most demanding needs and concerns for metastatic breast cancer patients.

Mile 59

The finish line is in sight! Can you tell us about a defining moment when you realized the impact our work has in the fight against breast cancer?

 I am so proud of our team and that we have successfully established a research program and developed interdisciplinary expertise which can be quite the challenge. We have worked to know a lot about breast cancer cells themselves. Now we also know something about the “good” and “bad” immune cells that have made their way inside the tumors. The combination of this knowledge has greatly broadened our research scope and revealed several new opportunities. We have seen dramatic effects of the immune system on tumor progression. In some of our experiments, an unleashed immune system can sometimes completely eradicate an aggressive breast tumor. If this effect can also be realized in patients, it would vastly accelerate our progress of curing breast cancer.

Dr. Zhang and his mom at Yellowstone in 2013, one year after her diagnosis and surgery.

Closing Ceremonies

Thanks for walking us through your research, Dr. Zhang! Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our walkers, crew and supporters?

 We are in the process of understanding how the rest of breast cancers resist or become resistant to current therapies. We believe we have some promising findings and hopefully in the near future we will be able to address this question for all patients.

As a co-survivor, I remember the side effects of my mother’s treatment. Conversations with advocates have opened my eyes to the real needs and hopes for patients, which should always be our top priority in pre-clinical research. These interactions help me gauge the importance of our findings and help us decide the right direction.

Dr. Xiang Zhang is an Assistant Professor at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded $920 million in breast cancer research, second only to the U.S. government and more than any other nonprofit in the world. Learn more here.

Dr. Zhang was also featured in our April blog post Behind the Science.

Dr. Zhang meets with patient advocates Susan Rafte and Josh Newby at the Annual SABCS meeting.

Pit Stop 

Three things to know about Dr. Zhang:

  1. My mom is excited that my research can reach a broader advocacy audience and would like to express her gratefulness to Komen.
  2. Both of my maternal grandparents were biomedical scientists. I lived with them throughout my childhood due to my parents’ busy working schedules. They deeply influenced me and stimulated my interest in science. They also encouraged me to come to the US to pursue my science dream. They both passed away five years ago, but will be forever live in my heart.
  3. Although my wife, Iris Zhang, is not a scientist, she has always been a fan of scientists. She attended my seminars whenever she could and helped me prepare my talks. She takes great care of our family while I work hard in the lab. Her support is instrumental to my research career!