Happy Halloween from the 3-Day Awarewolves

What’s that? Do you hear that howling? Is it Halloween? Or is it…The Awarewolves?!

This amazing team is a staple on the 3-Day, and their costumes keep them Halloween-ready all year long! They walked with us in New England in September, but their 3-Day journey began long before that. It began when Linda Lafragiola was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, when she and her sister Kathi Elliot decided that breast cancer would not beat them.

Linda explains, “Since being diagnosed, I decided to raise awareness about early detection and how important it is. Participating in the 3-Day allows me to share my story and experiences with any and everybody, year-round.”

What began as a promise, and a walk, between two sisters, has now grown to a whole team! That team includes their very own Awarewolf, Kathi’s beautiful Siberian Husky, Nika. Nika joined many of Linda and Kathi’s early training walks and quickly became their mascot.

After one of those such walks, the sisters started sharing possible team names with Kathi’s husband, David and her daughter Paige. They were talking about how everyone on the walks jokingly asks if Nika is a wolf, and right on cue, David began singing “Werewolves of London.” Suddenly, the group was singing “Werewolves in San Diego” instead, in honor of their upcoming walk in California.

From there, they all talked about how their team mission was about awareness and early detection, in honor of Linda’s own early diagnosis. So, David came up with AwareWolves. Paige created the team logo. Kathi coined the tagline, “Don’t be afraid — Early detection saves lives”. Linda found the amazing hot pink wolf ears. But they each came up with their own signature howls! And from there, a team was born.

More of how their story and team began, in Kathi’s own words…

“Linda learned that she had breast cancer in 2011. Fortunately, it was an early diagnosis and the cancer was limited to a small tumor. She underwent surgery that summer, followed by six weeks of radiation.

Mid-way through her treatment a friend asked Linda to join her at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day in San Francisco in June 2012. She thought, ‘60 miles in 3 days…if I can survive breast cancer then I can do that!’

As a sister of someone who is going through something like breast cancer, you try to find ways to be helpful. Driving Linda to radiation appointments was something I could do. When Linda said she was walking, I said, ‘Why not me too?!’ From then on, the drives to radiation became a time to plan fundraisers and future training walks.

Linda’s last radiation appointment was on November 1, 2011 and the next morning, we laced up our sneakers and started training. Several months later, we had logged more than 1,000 miles and raised over $5,000 dollars each – enough for two 3-Day walks. So, we decided to register for the San Diego 3-Day in November 2012, as well.

Clearly walking 60 miles is no small feat, especially factoring in inclement weather and hilly terrain, but any 3-Day participant will tell you that the aches, pains and blisters are worth it.

Linda says her first 3-Day in San Francisco was emotional, inspiring and eye opening. It really hit home.

She told me, ‘I met so many women and men whose lives had been touched by breast cancer. It was mind boggling! It helped me to go from feeling like a victim — saying why did this happen to me? — to actually doing something about it.’

Not long after completing our second 3-Day in San Francisco, Linda and I officially started our team, cleverly named…The AwareWolves.”

But that was only the beginning of so many amazing memories for their team and their sisterhood!

Since then, they have walked in nearly ten 3-Days in different cities, and their team has only grown in number and recognition!

“The AwareWolves pack has grown, just by the people we have met along our journey,” explains Linda. “Some of them are veteran 3-Day walkers and crew members. Some are first-time walkers who have joined us to see what it’s all about. Everyone loves our signature ears and I swear some people have joined just to rock the ears and howl with the pack! 😄 And, we’re ok with that! Our team is made up of people from all over the US and although we walk at different speeds, we know we are there for each other. 💕 We are known for taking our time, enjoying the event and everything that comes with being in the pink bubble.”

Though in the past the Awarewolves have been in that pink bubble for a few Halloween weekend walks, this year Linda will be part of a group costume, which is a Pac-Man theme, instead!

She and Kathi are gearing up to walk in San Diego in November, and even though Halloween might be in the rearview mirror at that point, you can expect some AwareWolves on the San Diego 3-Day trails. Just keep a pink ear perked up for their howl!

“Dear Cancer, you lose…”: Meet Survivor and First-Time 3-Dayer, Sylvia G.

If I had to write a letter to cancer it would read, “Dear Cancer, you lose…”

Sylvia just finished five and a half weeks of radiation after being diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her 40th birthday. Though she initially was shocked and numbed by her diagnosis, she gathered her family and friends around her and got “gangsta with cancer” by refusing to let it stop her from living her life and celebrating every minute of it.

Now, after finishing her radiation, she says, “I am feeling strong and just getting settled into my new normal. The silver lining throughout this process has been to just really LIVE because you never know! And of course, if you’re busy living, you have less time to worry about the small (or big) stuff.”

She is on the other side of one part of her breast cancer journey, but that doesn’t mean the journey is over. After her diagnosis, Sylvia did research into all of the work that Susan G. Komen does to support survivors and those living with breast cancer. This, in turn, led her to the 3-Day. She signed up immediately for the New England 3-Day and will be driving in from her hometown of Pelham, New York to walk in her first-ever 3-Day at our New England 3-Day in September. She’s already fundraised more than $3,500 and is continuing to spread the word about the 3-Day and breast health. To say that breast cancer hasn’t slowed her down is an understatement! But don’t take it from us! Sylvia is here to share her story in her own words…

Tell us your breast cancer story…

I had just turned 40 when my world was turned upside down. I received a call I never expected.

“You have breast cancer.”

And just like that I was numb. The music stopped, and the party was over.

While still in shock, my family immediately took me to my mom’s breast surgeon. She had just finished treatment for stage 1 breast cancer the year before and was a total champion throughout it all, I might add. I was able to get positive preliminary information specific to my breast cancer which helped me start to feel the ground a bit.

We decided to go for several other opinions with breast surgeons and reconstruction surgeons. After choosing the team I felt most comfortable with, we opted for the nipple sparing double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. My diagnosis after surgery ended up being stage 2 breast cancer that had spread to one lymph node. I learned that I would have to have four rounds of chemo plus radiation.

In the days leading up to my first round of chemo, I kept reflecting on how blessed I am to live in a time of so many medical breakthroughs as well as options for treatment of breast cancer. This is when I realized that I needed to be part of helping to continue these advancements and fight to end breast cancer.

And how did this journey lead you to the 3-Day?

I had read online about Susan G. Komen and how much they have done for research, education, screening and treatment. I knew I had found the right match for my mission to bring us closer to a cure so that so many other people, including my children, will not have to suffer through this. I was gearing up to get gangsta with cancer!

And you have! You’ve been very successful with your fundraising efforts!

I immediately started my fundraising by following all the tips on the 3-Day website. Posting on Facebook, personally emailing all my family and friends, remembering to always send thank you emails as well as follow up emails and telling people about corporate matching gifts. At the end of the day, I really am so blessed to have generous and caring people in my life, some of who also have been impacted by this disease, and I am forever grateful for their support.

Though I have had success in fundraising there does come a point that you have to get creative to be able to keep getting donations outside of just family and friends. One way is to go through all your contacts and see who has a business or works for a company that can partner up with you to create a fundraiser. This in turn allows you to use their resources and reach a larger audience to support your cause.

So far, I am very proud of how much I’ve been able to raise, and I am really looking forward to meeting other survivors, hearing their stories of fearlessness, as well as bonding with my team. I can only imagine that feeling of accomplishment after finishing the 3-Day walk!

What are some of your other 3-Day goals?

I want to reach as many people as possible and remind them of the importance of getting regular mammograms because early detection of breast cancer can make the disease easier to treat. I will also continue to stay focused on my health and positivity so that I can be my best self.

I still have a long way to go but since becoming a survivor I don’t think I can ever justify sweating the small stuff.

I have been dealt a couple bad hands but at the end I plan on winning the game!

My 3-Day Experience: Checking in with Former AVON 39 Walker, Debbie

This year on the 3-Day, we were happy and honored to welcome many past AVON 39 walkers to our pink family. One of those walkers, Debbie S., joined the 2018 San Diego 3-Day and was our Top individual Fundraiser for the event! After raising more than $75,000 as a six-time AVON 39 walker, she raised $32,000 in her first year on the 3-Day.

We were so honored to have this breast cancer survivor and grandmother of two on the 3-Day this year. After her first 60-mile walk, she’s giving us an inside peek at her journey, and her top fundraising tips!

You are a fundraising rock star! What are your favorite fundraising techniques?

I fundraise very simply, yet diligently. I start about six months ahead of the walk. I create a personal email message, which I also used on my participant center page. I include a picture of myself to keep it personal. I sent the email to every email address I have in my contacts, everyone that has ever emailed me, everyone I know, lots of people I do not know; friends, family, friends of friends and family, doctors, work contacts, clients etc. Hundreds of emails!

The first round of emails always gets a good amount of donations and keeps me going. For the next 3-4 months I send out monthly emails to those who have not yet donated. I change the email message up each time, but still keep it very personal. I continue to send my original email to ‘new’ email contacts I have gathered along the way. I ask everyone for their email and ask friends and family to share their email lists.

By September I was sending emails to those remaining donors every other week. Come October I was sending emails every week and took advantage of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sometimes I was just sending a picture or a saying or a cartoon and my link to my donation page. It was my goal to stay in their face every time they went to their emails. I figured, the worst thing that could happen is they would just delete or block me! 😀 No harm! Many thanked me for reminding them, because with all the emails we get, they do get lost and forgotten. I sent emails every week, all the way up until the day of the walk.

I immediately sent every donor a personal thank you email. Also, every once in a while I would update those who already donated on my progress, showing them how much they were a part of raising so much money, which would occasionally make them donate again! I stressed US, and WE, not just me! I showed them what a big part of finding a cure and reaching a goal they were. The fundraising is so fun to me and gives me a great sense of accomplishment! I would wake up every morning and check email immediately to see my donations. The more I got, the more I wanted! I would raise my personal goal accordingly.

I didn’t do anything big or unusual, but I just never stopped asking!

What about training for your 60-mile walk?

As for training, I am a walker by nature. I walk year-round. I started walking diligently 13 years ago, after my cancer diagnosis. It was my escape. I have not stopped walking since. I walk an average of 30 miles a week!

You were also a part of our Opening Ceremony….

The Opening Ceremony was great! Being a part of it was so amazing and special. It was the right length of time and got everyone motivated to get out there and do this! I appreciated the time taken the day before for rehearsal and the time put into making it great!

What were some of your favorite spots along the route?

The route was beautiful! After very chilly mornings, the weather was spectacular, and the views were magnificent. Day 1 had gorgeous ocean views, but every day was beautiful. Having walked in 6 AVON 39 walks in different cities, I must say San Diego blew me away. I have never walked in a city with so much neighborhood support! It was amazing! The crew and residents and businesses were out everywhere! It was a wonderful feeling of love and support, from survivors and women going through treatment thanking us to kids and elderly showing their love!

As a survivor I couldn’t feel more support and love. The crew along the way was great! On Day 1, as it heated up, I took off my long-sleeved shirt. As I was attempting to tie it around my waist, a woman came right over to me and offered to bring it to camp for me. She put it in a bag, wrote my name and phone number on it and delivered it to camp! It seems silly, but so great to not have to walk with a shirt wrapped around you for 20 miles! She even called me later that night to make sure I got it! That’s just how people were! So sweet!

What was it like crossing the finish line?

Crossing the finish line was super special. My son walked the last day with me as a 20-mile walker! I can’t tell you how special that was! We had a great time and as we approached the finish line, my 6-year old granddaughter made a mad dash for me across the field. I picked her up, carried her and the three of us crossed the finish line together! My son said he would love to do it again, maybe all 60 miles, and my granddaughter said she would walk with me in 10 years, when she’s 16! 😀

It looks like we have a future 3-Dayer on our hands! Thank you to Debbie, and all our former AVON 39 walkers who made this 3-Day season something truly special!