“She was a light that shined so bright that the light still remains even though she is gone.”
That’s how Carley Cummings, team captain of Twin Cities 3-Day team “Live Like Laurie,” describes her late mother.
Carley, her sisters Anna and Liz, as well as her best friend Beth have collectively walked in more than 20 3-Days in the Twin Cities in honor of Laurie, and they don’t plan on stopping!
“The walk has given us a way to cope. Knowing that we can continue fighting my mom’s war by helping to end breast cancer helps us a lot. The walk has given us purpose and has helped us to be strong.”
Much of that strength comes from her mom. Laurie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 when she was only 38 years old. After a double mastectomy and seven years in remission, the cancer came back in her bones. The cancer then eventually spread all over her body and into her brain. However, with three young children and a loving husband, she refused to give up.
Laurie lived with Stage 4 cancer for five more years.
Carley says, “She never let the cancer define who she was. She smiled, danced, and laughed through the pain and the long days of chemo and radiation rounds. To say she fought hard is an understatement.”
Laurie had an amazing doctor and was constantly blessed with new treatments and support from family and friends that kept her going.
She also continued to be a part of the 3-Day, walking for 10 years in total. She walked her first 3-Day shortly after her 2002 diagnosis, when Carley was just in kindergarten, and made the 3-Day a part of her whole family’s lives. She even walked one year with a back brace, and just a few months after she got her hip replaced. Carley was able to walk side-by-side with her mom in Laurie’s final 3-Day.
Later, in 2014, Carley and Anna were hesitant to walk because Laurie’s health had rapidly declined, but she encouraged them to walk without her. Just a few hours after crossing the finish line of the walk, they and their family held their mom’s hands as she took her last breath. Carley truly believes Laurie held on long enough for them to finish.
“Even when my mom was dying, she was still filled with so much life. She was passionate about life and put all her energy into living in the moment. She left us with the most amazing memories. My mom was one of kind. She did more for us in the time we had with her than most moms do for their kids in a lifetime. Her love still gets me through each day.”
After her passing Carley and her team re-named their group “Live Like Laurie,” in her honor. They continue to walk together, supported by friends and family, and wear a photo of Laurie on their backs as they take on those 60 miles year after year.
“Walking with my sisters and having my dad cheer us on along the route is amazing. We are constantly supporting one another and encouraging one another throughout every mile. I don’t think that I could do the walk without my sisters. They help me to finish strong.”
They also help each other train, and fundraise as a team by sending out letters every year to family and friends and selling custom designed t-shirts. This past summer, they also organized a donation garage sale, and all the money they made was put towards their 3-Day fundraising. These creative ideas have helped them meet their goals each year, and return to their 3-Day family side by side.
“The 3-Day is an emotional roller-coaster for me. Those three days are filled with tears, laughter, and conversations that move you. We are lucky enough to have friends and family cheer along the way which helps me out a lot. Everyone we meet along the way cheers us on as well and makes us feel so loved.”
Carley also feels the love of her mom as she walks. And whenever the trail gets tough, it’s the memory of Laurie that keeps her going.
“I keep walking because I can’t walk away. I promised my mom I’d fight to find a cure. Just because my mom lost her battle doesn’t mean this war is over. I walk so others don’t have to go through the pain that my family and I have had to endure. I will keep walking for a future free of all cancer.”
The bond between sisters is truly unique and special, but the bond between “Titsters” is even deeper! Just ask Angela and Shelly, a sister duo who are part of the 3 Day family. Angela is currently battling breast cancer, and Shelly walks for Team Titster in the Twin Cities 3-Day in her honor.
From a young age, these two were joined at the hip, which meant Angela getting all her hair cut off when Shelly wanted to play “beauty parlor” or putting on plays and concerts together in their neighborhood. These “Titsters,” Angela’s childhood name for her sister, have been there for each other through it all.
That journey and support also includes Angela’s ongoing fight with breast cancer, one that Shelly has been a part of since Angela’s diagnosis. Angela was initially diagnosed with cancer when she was seven months pregnant, and her sister “was there immediately to ensure she was there for the birth of my baby girl and to hold my hand during my first chemotherapy. During that chemotherapy, all we did was laugh at videos, reminisce on memories, and I think about that more than being sick after the treatment.”
“After I completed my treatment after my first round of breast cancer, I went to a pretty dark place. The mental and physical struggle after treatment can be more challenging than anything. Woman and men feel more alone than ever. They have constant help, messages, and support during treatment, but what happens after is way more crucial. During treatment, we are in survival mode and cannot fully comprehend that we are going through cancer. Once treatment is done, the messages and help dwindle but the pain is still there. Our body is adjusting and still combatting the toll of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation. Mentally, we never recover. The constant thought of recurrence always lingers and life is never the same. At the same time, we gain strength in a different way and look at the world and see that life is a gift. We cherish memories differently, we see the kindness of family and our community, and know that every day counts.”
Angela’s treatment will continue for the rest of her life, as she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in January of 2016. Stage IV research made up nearly 40% of Susan G. Komen’s overall research investment in 2016, with more than $166 million in funding for over 400 research grants and more than 40 clinical trials focused on metastatic disease to date. Aside from research and monetary support, Angela says she is constantly amazed by the support she receives from her family and even the community at large.
“What is so enlightening with all these clinical trials is that everything is so new at this point. And it is scary regardless, but what I like to tell people is that every day is a gift, but also a battle. Cancer is not going to control my life. It’s always going to be a part of me, but it does not define me.
“I’m also confident that I will live my life to inspire people and show people that despite being diagnosed with cancer, it doesn’t define you. I keep a happy journal, and at the end of every day I write my favorite part of the day, whether it’s a wonderful moment with my kids or a great conversation with my sister.”
Angela also credits Shelly as her rock, even from states away.
“The bond I have with my sister has helped me tremendously with this struggle and she truly showcases the bond that sisters have. She was there to comfort me and help me understand this it’s okay to still cry, but more importantly to laugh. We live in different states and I know that signing up for the 3-Day was just another way to show that she’s always there to face my battles with me, even if we cannot do it together.”
Part of Shelly’s support has come through her involvement in the 3-Day, which began as a crew member and has continued as a walker and fundraiser for the team she formed last year, Team Titster. Her first year on the 3-Day was a monumental one.
“When I signed up to be in the crew, part of the sign-up mentioned possibly being a part of the Opening or Closing Ceremony, speaking and carrying the sister flag,” Shelly explained when talking about speaking at her first walk. “The day before the walk at Crew Training, I met a bunch of very friendly, fun gals, who when I spoke on stage the next morning, cheered me on, even though I was nervous, and even though I was a stranger to them up until the day before. That has been my experience with everyone connected to the walk. Just good people.”
For her second year with the 3 Day, Shelly took to the trails and walked in her sister’s honor.
“When I decided to walk the next year, I was a little intimidated by the fundraising. But I found that when I reached out to my network to let them know why I was walking, and asked them to consider donating, people were more than willing to support me and Angie and the cause. I also found that almost every one of them had a connection to breast cancer. That alone is sad, but it motivated me even more to walk for those who also had loved ones battling or had battled the disease.”
Shelly helped her fundraising cause by casting a wide net for her initial email ask with a link to her page, along with a write up about Angela and a picture of “my little sister hero.” She also writes a 3-Day blog and shares that along with thank you cards to all her supporters to help them feel like they were there for her journey along the 60 miles.
When she started Team Titster in her third year on the 3-Day, Shelly expanded her fundraising email list and worked on her social media to raise even more. She targeted her competitive spirit and eventually raised more than $2,000 more than her first year. She was also the #7 Top Fundraiser for the Twin Cities 3-Day.
This success is no surprise to Angela, who has always been inspired and supported by their sisterhood.
“Shelly has always been my role model, and is someone that I’m inspired to be like. She is always the first person I want to talk to when I’m having a bad day, but more importantly, I want to talk to her in my great days.”
The love is certainly mutual, with Shelly calling Angela a super hero.
“Angie is small in stature but big in personality, perseverance and mostly in heart. She is feisty and fun, outgoing and stubborn, and those are all things we have in common. […] I realize that I have the best sister in the world. She doesn’t judge me, she’s been there for me when others have not been, and I am so proud of her in every way possible. Angie is my heart.”
That heart is going to finally experience the 3-Day for the first time this year. Angela will be making the trip from Chicago to the Twin Cities 3-Day in 2017 to cheer on Team Titster, which Shelly hopes to grow this year as well.
“I’m excited to be there the first time to cheer on my sister and Team Titster!” Angela enthuses. “I’m also happy to be able to volunteer and see the 3-Day. I’m thrilled and a bit nervous for the emotional experience but more importantly, I can’t wait to see and listen to the inspiring stories, and to hold the hands of Team Titster and fellow walkers.
“I know this walk means a lot to Shelly, and I know that every mile she walks, she truly is walking in my shoes to take some of the pain away. I’ve always looked up to my sister. She has more determination, heart and spirit than anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve also come to realize that those qualities are what inspires me to fight harder every day.”
Shelly echoes that determination, saying that the 3-Day is “emotional (lots of crying, both happy and heart wrenching), challenging (walking and training to walk 60 miles is no easy feat), and unforgettable (experiences and memories that are priceless and make you want to come back).”
Both Angela and Shelly will continue to come back as walkers, volunteers or supporters, until a cure is found.
“There is still no cure for breast cancer,” Shelly states simply. “That in itself gives me purpose and determination to keep doing the walks. My favorite button on my 3-Day water pack is ‘Every Blister Saves a Sister.’ I am prone to blisters, no matter how much training I do, (last year, I had 11 by the end of Day 3) so walking until there is a cure is something I feel like I can do, and will try to keep doing until there is no more breast cancer. Blisters do not hurt, physically or emotionally, as much as cancer does. And of course, my sister inspires me, not just to do the walk, but she inspires me every day.”
The power of sisterhood on the 3-Day is real, and every step makes a difference.