Sister, Sister: Meet Angela and Shelly

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.

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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.

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“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.”

3day20153Angela 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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

 

Best Friends and 3-Dayers: Meet Christi K. and Her Bestie from Cassie’s Cups

There are a few things that almost everyone loves. Chocolate and best friends are two of those things.

For Christi Kokaisel, chocolate and besties go hand and hand. Christi and her best friend Cassie walked side by side in more than five 3-Day journeys in the Twin Cities with lots of chocolate close at hand.

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Cassie was diagnosed with breast cancer at 24 years old in 2010. She was diagnosed two more times over the next six years, but that never stopped her from being a mom, friend, and 3-Day team leader for Cassie’s Cups. Over the years, the team size ebbed and flowed, but their love of chocolate and each other never wavered. Christi says this was largely due to Cassie’s strength and passion.

“She was kind of that perfect best friend. She was very opinionated but always very sweet and caring. She would remember things like me having a presentation at work and call me on that day and ask about it. Things that other people don’t remember,” said Christi.

“She was also very proud that she always went into work and lived a normal life, even when she was going through treatment. She wanted everything to be as normal as it could be.”

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Cassie, Christi and their team are anything but normal, however, and in the best way.

Now well-known at the Twin Cities 3-Day, they always have peanut butter cups, Cassie’s favorite, on hand to keep their team, and others, going for every one of the 60 miles. Christi explains that even though she and Cassie jokingly referred to the 3-Day as their “second job,” they really saw the 3-Day as another family.

“As soon as you get to Opening Ceremony, and you step out there, you just become part of this giant family. You’re with a mass amount of people, but you’re all there for the same reason. Over those three days, it’s so motivating. As hard and sad as it can be, meeting all these people with stories to tell, you really do become a family.”

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Christi and all of Cassie’s Cups leaned on that 3-Day family last year, when they lost Cassie just a few weeks before the walk. Her father was able to walk in her place, and her absence was felt throughout the 3-Day, but Christi said it couldn’t have gone any other way.

“It would not have seemed right to not continue to do the walk. […] Despite the horrible things we had been through, there was something uplifting about fundraising and why we were walking. It was a renewed energy to pull it off, and it was a very inspiring event for us.”

This inspiration was especially important for the new walkers on their large team. Christi says that is what their team prides themselves on: never-ending support.

“We had some people last year who weren’t in the best shape but really wanted to walk. And I always tell people to just set goals for themselves. If you want to walk 10 miles a day, there are buses. They will take care of you! Set personal goals, and so long as you fundraise, you’ll be good. […] You’re there for the right reason, and you’ve fundraised, so do what you can.”

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Every little bit helps, and everything is encouraged on this team. Christi says questions about fundraising are one of the main concerns she still sees for all her team members, but she always encourages people not to get discouraged too early. Anything is possible!

“Especially for new walkers, you are tapping into a new family and group of friends so don’t underestimate the power of simply asking for donations. Sadly, everyone has a connection, and to know that someone is doing this walk is very inspiring. Especially with new walkers, you can see people do most of their fundraising just by asking.”

“We really do work as a team though. Once someone hits their goal, and someone else hasn’t, then I keep pushing for them. We really make sure that down to the last minute, we are pushing for everyone else. We lean on our team.”

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This year, Christi is once again hoping to be the largest team in the Twin Cities, but she’s also fulfilling a long-time goal of her and Cassie’s by walking in the San Diego 3-Day as well.

Last year, “it was really motivating to see how all of Cassie’s network of family and friends came together and did this.”

So this year, even if she won’t be able to walk alongside her best friend, she’ll always Cassie in her heart…along with peanut butter cups.

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Meet Northern Nippys, Twin Cities 3-Day Team

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Twin Cities 3-Dayers take their walking and training seriously all year long, even in the dead of winter temperatures. Minnesota’s freezing temperatures bring teams together early in their 3-Day journey, whether that team is two people or 32 strong. One team, The Northern Nippys, has been both a duo and an army of more than 30 people, and through the years they have become a Twin Cities 3-Day staple thanks to creative fundraising and boundless recruitment energy.

This year, the Nippys, led by Team Captain Laura Lamson, are aiming to raise $100,000 as a team of at least 40 people, and already have 39 team members behind that goal.

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“I’d always dreamed of a big team! And then a friend of mine signed up and she said, “If we have ten, then we should go for 15!” And I said, “Why don’t we go for 20?” Lamson explained.

“It turned into such a positive peer pressure situation from there and escalated up, and that was the year we had 32 people. It was just amazing! A lot more work, but a lot more fun came with it. After that the numbers changed, but this year is my 10th year walking and my friend’s 10th year as a survivor, so we have vowed to raise $100,000.”

Such a bold goal means recruiting new team members, hosting many group meetings for support, and a whole lot of fundraising.

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Recruiting was the easy part for Lamson, who welcomes anyone and everyone onto the Nippys. A few team members signed up immediately after the 2016 3-Day finished, and more soon followed thanks to word-of-mouth through various friend groups, and social media promotion.

A good support system is key for any team, especially one with lots of new members, and the Nippys have it in spades.

“We have team meet and greets to make it fun! I make a video from all of last year’s photos to give them a feel for the 3-Day and make them comfortable right from the start,” Lamson says. “Then, we talk about why you’re walking and who we’re walking for, and just keep it positive! We do ongoing team meetings and brain storming, and see what we can do for fundraising and support. We also have our team Facebook page for people to ask questions, and share ideas or tips from past walks.”

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For veteran walkers like Lamson and a few of the other team members, that means sharing everything from their packing list to their fundraising letters.

Even with a large team, fundraising can be a daunting task, especially for new walkers with a big goal.

“So many of my walkers are intimidated by [fundraising] but I tell them that on average you need about 50 people to donate.”

Getting those donations just depends on what each walker is comfortable with. Lamson has developed a list of more than 500 people she mails letters to each year, and continually reminds new teammates that “it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

The team also runs one fundraiser with a local restaurant and another with a local bowling alley, distributing the proceeds throughout team members who need an extra boost towards their goal. In the past, the team has also done garage sales, dog washes and more.

“Every little thing we do brings fun and brings us together. The more we do, the more it makes us unified as a family.”

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This feeling of family culminates every year on the 3-Day itself.

“You are just in this happy little mode no matter what happens,” Lamson recounts. “It’s how we all wish the world would be. It’s just the kindness and generosity that comes out in everyone, and you feel like a family. The more years I walked, the more I knew how important this was. One in eight women are affected and I’ve got to walk for them! You get on the 3-Day high and it’s too fun to walk away from the little 3-Day bubble.”

So every year, the Northern Nippys come back for more of that family love from their team, and their whole Twin Cities community. This year they have a big goal to achieve, but luckily, they also have each other to help them on their journey.

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