A 3-Day Family Affair: Mother’s Day with Heather Morse

Some moms will spend this Mother’s Day weekend at brunch or the spa, on a vacation with their families, or even by simply taking the day to sleep in and relax. For others, including mother and 3-Dayer Heather Morse, this Sunday will mean a town-wide canning event to raise money for her long-time 3-Day team “Cup Crusaders.” Luckily, Heather wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Joined by her family, including three sons aged 16 to 29, Heather will once again be supporting the 3-Day this year, and that includes on Mother’s Day.

Being a mom has shaped much of Heather’s experience with the 3-Day family, including speaking at 3-Day camp in San Diego last year.

“My sons didn’t know I was doing it until that night, but I thought it was important for them to see. I wanted them to see what I was capable of. I wanted them to see the inspiration, and the hope and why it was so important to me.”

That was evident in her speech, where she broke out her 3-Day journey into steps. She walks her initial 8,000 steps for her boys, because they come first in her life. The following steps are for all the other children’s parents who have the disease and everyone with loved ones who are fighting.

“I wanted it to be more impactful and inspirational, but put a little humor in it. I even talked about lunch where you laugh and cry and talk with people. You can feel alone when you have this diagnosis, but ever since I’ve done the 3-Day I’ve had an outlet and a support group to not feel so alone.”

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Her first breast cancer diagnosis came before her involvement with the 3-Day, but once she was re-diagnosed, Heather realized it was something she had to do. She started off by crewing, and then joined a team to walk those 60 miles. After the first few years, her youngest son joined the Youth Corps to support her and last year, all three of her sons walked side-by-side with her as she continues to fight Stage IV breast cancer.

That diagnosis was the original reason she became a part of the 3-Day, because she wanted to meet others also battling Stage IV. She was looking for a “little hope” from a new support system, and the one she found has also become a support group for her boys.

“It has made me feel so proud, and I was so happy that they were getting an outlet as well. It makes me happy for them to see so many cancer survivors, because it gives them hope.”

20170509_122911Hope and passion are something Heather and her family have in spades, as is evidenced by their increasing involvement in the cause. This involvement begins, and continues, with fundraising.

Though her family was involved with her fundraising efforts “since day one,” that fundraising has grown and evolved over the years. In addition to her annual Mother’s Day canning event, Heather and her team also fundraise on their personal social media channels, at local restaurants, and with a motorcycle barbecue.

“We do a motorcycle ride every year where people pay to be part of a guided motorcycle ride, and then there is also a whole BBQ with live music and vendors. We’ve done it for a few years so almost everything is donated, and we raised around $3,500 last year. Then we had a few local companies do a $1,000 match as well, so we end up making even more for our team!”

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The key, she says, is to look professional, and take your fundraising as seriously as possible.

“You need to have posters and signs and dress in pink and present yourself well. Really try to look as legitimate as possible!”

It is the fundraising aspect that makes the 3-Day truly unique in Heather’s eyes.

“It’s amazing the people that you meet and how they touch your lives,” she says. “This raises so much wonderful money, and so much awareness for Stage IV. When you do the fundraising, you meet a lot of people. You touch a lot of people, and they touch you. You learn their stories! And then on the 3-Day you become a family.”

Morse is, of course, lucky to always have her own family on event with her. This is what she is looking forward to most for 2017; seeing her sons walk and captain the Youth Corps again. She can’t wait to watch them succeed along with her friends and breast cancer survivors.

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These wins, and positive successes, are part of what keeps her going year after year.

“The biggest thing in the world, and one of the ways you survive, is keeping your psychological part of your body healthy.  If you keep your mind healthy, that helps keep your body healthy. Being positive and keeping busy and active, I think plays a direct role in your physical health.”

That’s why you’ll see Heather out and moving with her family this weekend, and this coming 3-Day.

A Team of Two: Meet Team Sweet 16

Imagine you’re the mother of a seven-month-old baby. She’s your second child, so you’re familiar with the joy of motherhood—the chubby hands grasping around your pinky, the sweet coos, the late-night awakenings where you’re overcome with exhaustion—but you know that it’s all worth it. You’ve been nursing fine for six months, and then on the seventh month, your daughter suddenly stops nursing out of one breast. You go to the doctor and are told it’s common, just a typical nursing infection like mastitis. You’re given an antibiotic… but it doesn’t get better. You go back in, and by then, the skin on your breast has changed in appearance. You are told you have stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer.

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This is Laurie and Miranda’s story. Laurie is Miranda’s mother, a soft-spoken woman with a bright smile. Laurie has walked the Susan G. Komen 3-Day three times; and while every Komen 3-Day is a special experience, this third time is celebrating her sixteen-year anniversary of survival. “I did a year of chemotherapy and radiation all while she was a baby,” Laurie says, as Miranda stands next to her. “I had a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy… all while she was a baby.”

Miranda wasn’t just in Dallas/Fort Worth cheering her mother on. She was walking for the first time, celebrating her sixteenth birthday with a sixty-mile walk. “My mom is a survivor and I lost my dance teacher to breast cancer. Breast cancer has had a huge impact on my life, and I wanted to do something to help,” she said. “It’s just us two, mom and daughter… and this is why we call this the Sweet 16.”

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Being a teenage walker presents unique challenges. “I’m a junior [in high school], and I have a lot of homework to do and honors classes. It’s tough to be here, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s a rewarding experience and one that I wanted to have.”

As a three-time walker, Laurie found that fundraising was much easier than she thought it would be. “People want to support you, because breast cancer impacts everyone. Everybody knows somebody,” she said. Laurie and Miranda sewed ribbons and sold them as donations. Donors were invited to write on the ribbons with the names of people they loved who were affected by breast cancer.

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Laurie and Miranda were tired on day two of their walk, but they felt strong in their conviction to walk. “When you’re with this group of people, you don’t feel the pain. It’s nothing like the fight you go through with breast cancer.”

What’s it like to be a sixteen year survivor, walking sixty miles with your sixteen-year-old daughter? “I had a 10% survival rate. I didn’t think I’d be here. It’s incredible to do this with her – so that hopefully, one day, she won’t have to do this with her daughter.”

 

Memory of a Mother: Mary Beth & Nicole

How would you describe your mother in just one word? If Mary Beth Nardoni had to be described in just one word, it would be kind. “She was a Special Ed teacher, and she had a heart of absolute gold. She started a Brownie troop for Special Ed students, because nobody else had the time to put it together. She got all of the uniforms donated, because most of the parents couldn’t afford them. At Christmas time, she made sure others had before we did. She would give you the shirt off her back,” said her daughter, Nicole.

It was 1998 when Mary Beth found a lump in her breast. “My mom said to me, ‘Cole, I feel something. And the crazy part is, I know it’s cancer.’” Because she didn’t have health insurance, Mary Beth couldn’t go to the doctor until several months later, where it was confirmed that her hunch was right: Mary Beth had breast cancer.

A deeply private person, Mary Beth didn’t want to concern herself with numbers, stages, or statistics. By the time she received treatment and had surgery to remove the tumor and her lymph nodes, the cancer had spread to a stage four. Yet Mary Beth refused to let her cancer get her down. “It’s just cancer, it doesn’t matter,” she would say, continually battling the disease with her head held high. Mary Beth battled for years, going in and out of remission.

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Mary Beth, throughout the years. Photos courtesy of Nicole Hercules

When Nicole was getting ready to leave for a long awaited vacation in Cancun, she heard that her mother wasn’t doing well after a procedure and considered cancelling her trip. When Mary Beth got wind of this, she quickly checked herself out of the hospital, told Nicole she was fine, and sent Nicole on her trip. As soon as Nicole was out of the country, Mary Beth checked herself back in to the hospital. She refused to let her illness affect her daughter’s vacation, later saying, “Don’t worry about me. It’s just cancer, and I didn’t want you to miss your trip.”

In March of 2004, Mary Beth fell down in a parking lot and broke her arm. She had been told she was in remission, but didn’t continue receiving scans as she didn’t have health insurance. When she broke her arm, she had bone scans and it was discovered that the cancer was back. Nicole flew to Oklahoma on April 1, and that’s when she learned her mother was dying. “On April 19 at 7:30 pm, I told the doctors to administer the morphine. On April 20, she passed away and I was there to hold her hand. I told her that I loved her. She gave me the greatest gift that day – because she was there to see me take my first breath, and I was there to see her last.”

It took Nicole a few years to heal, and she participated in her first Komen event, the Chicago Race for the Cure, in 2009. In 2010, she did her first 3-Day walk in Chicago. In 2011, she walked the 3-Day in Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, and then in 2013, Nicole’s dad passed away of lung cancer. The tragic loss of both of her parents prompted Nicole to walk all seven 3-Day events in 2014, and she was invited to speak at the Opening Ceremony about how cancer has personally affected her family.

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Nicole speaks at Opening Ceremony in a 2014 3-Day

Nicole’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, 2015. Her sister was HER2 positive, and is now in remission. Her sister will now be tested for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene, and then Nicole can be tested, as well. (Insurance stipulations sometimes require positive test results from an immediate family member before the expensive test is covered.) Despite still waiting for the BRCA gene test, Nicole took preventative measures. “I became a previvor with a prophylactic double mastectomy on June 1st 2015. We lost an aunt to Ovarian cancer, and with my family, it was just too much.”

“It hasn’t been easy, choosing to have them taken off. I’ve had four surgeries, and necrosis, and a bunch of other stuff, but you know what? I’d take this any day over cancer.”

When faced with unimaginable loss, Nicole chose to stay and fight. In the past eight years, she has raised over $41,000 through the 3-Day, funding dozens of life-saving treatments and ground-breaking research. “I don’t do this because I think it’s fun or cute. I don’t do this to wear a pink tutu around town. That’s not why I do what I do. I do what I do so that my children will never have to hear, ‘you have breast cancer.’”

And that’s exactly why we do what we do, Nicole; so that you, your children, our children, our aunts, our mothers, our fathers, our friends, our sisters, or our brothers never have to hear, “you have breast cancer.”

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This Mother’s Day, make the commitment to helping us end breast cancer forever. If you’re a first-time walker, use the code BYB16 by May 9th to receive a free round trip plane ticket to the 3-Day. If you last walked between 2008 and 2014, you may also be eligible for free airfare by using code SPRING16. Check your 3-Day email for details. You can also change your profile picture on your social media accounts to support moms everywhere, via Susan G. Komen. Click here to try it now.