Walking with the Pink Hats
Walking with the Pink Hats by Sheree Kirby The Bay Area Avon 3-day Breast Cancer Walk, Summer 2001 It’s been several days since I arrived at the finish line, and I am still searching for an adequate way to describe the experience. Many people have said “I can’t imagine ever doing that,” and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t imagine it either - initially. I started preparing by walking 3 miles, then 5 miles on weekend mornings in February. The day after my first 8-mile training walk, I wasn’t able to straighten my legs to get out of bed. But as the months went by, and the miles added up, my body’s complaints settled into a sort of dull whine. Even with training, the actual event was a series of challenges. But now that the experience is behind me, I realize that my challenges paled next to those faced by some of my fellow walkers. I’ll always remember Dana, who was determined to participate because her mother is very ill with breast cancer. Though Dana has no arms or legs, she completed the sixty miles on a specially made bicycle that allowed her to pedal with prosthetic arms. With Dana as inspiration, how could I not keep going? I started each morning’s route at a good pace because my tent mate had a much faster stride. When I fell back to my naturally slower pace, I was able to meet and talk with many of the other walkers, and I was humbled. I met a man and wife who were walking as a tribute to the man’s first wife who had died of cancer. I trudged up a steep hill with a young woman whose 31 year-old sister had died after a hard 14-month fight. I crossed several intersections with the help of a gray-bearded volunteer who displayed a photo of his beautiful 28 year-old daughter on the side of his motorcycle. She died just two years ago. I lost count of the number of shirts that said, “I’m walking in honor of my mother.” Then there were the pink hats - almost two hundred of them. They belonged to women of all ages and ethnicities who have survived the disease, and who are determined to be part of the solution. Some were treated two decades ago, and some are still regrowing their hair after chemo. They helped me to forget the miles. Each day we looped through a variety of neighborhoods, from the modest Santa Clara working class tracts to the mansions of Hillsborough, and in every one of them, residents came out to cheer us on or spray us with cool water. Several even offered us Popsicles or lemonade. Drivers honked and children cheered with their parents. Thirty San Jose Police officers rode their bikes along side us for the entire route – on their own time. Each night after unloading our gear, pitching our tents and finding our way to the mobile showers, we were treated to dinner and guest speakers. One evening, the Director of Cancer Prevention at UCSF came up to the podium to thank all the walkers for funding the Center’s life-saving research. I immediately recognized her as the volunteer who had so gently wrapped my blistered feet at the medical tent the previous day. You might imagine the emotion and camaraderie at the finish line in San Francisco. Those who had arrived earlier came forward to congratulate and high-five each one of us as we reached our destination. Several walkers limped in. One was carried in because she had broken her ankle a few miles back. Many walkers were in tears. With just a few yards to go, I thought I was holding it together fairly well. Then, someone on the sideline pushed a woman in a wheel chair right up to me. The woman’s bald head was covered with a baseball cap. She reached out and held my right hand in both of hers and said, “Thank you so much.” When I looked into her eyes, my thin veil of composure dissolved. I was reminded of all the people who gave money to this cause and allowed me to be there. I thought of my husband and the many hours he watched our children alone and the extra chores he did so I could train. I pictured each of my family members and dear friends who have fought this disease, and those who are still fighting. So, yes, I am proud to have completed the walk; but with all of the encouragement, support and inspiration, I could do nothing else. None of us could. About the author: Sheree Kirby writes features and essays on relationships, family and parenting issues. Her work has been published in Bay Area Parent, San Francisco Parent and Valley Parent. Her relationship column "Ties that Bind" has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News. She lives in San Jose with her husband and three children.