In the predawn darkness, in a sea of pink, I began the journey I had prepared for throughout the summer. Countless hours spent training, fundraising and planning brought me to this place. I soon learned, however, that all of my hard work would do little to truly prepare me for the experience that is the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk.
I was completely out of my element as I joined an experienced 3-Day team for this journey. I was happy to let them usher me along to the Opening Ceremonies at Nationals Park in DC. As we shuffled closer to the stage I struggled to read all the t-shirts, in varying shades of pink, designed to honor breast cancer victims. Our shirts were neon green to better track each other and were emblazoned with our team name and motto “The Walking Talkers….Walking and Talking Until We Find A Cure.”
And talk we did.
For three days as we endured driving rain, humidity, mud encrusted paths, roads with no sidewalks, blisters and fatigue we talked to everyone we encountered. Sometimes it was just a quick “how you doing?” offered to a walker who was alone. Other times, we swapped cancer stories with strangers and learned what prompted them to sacrifice three days and their bodies for the cause. Often, it was a quick exchange with the road crew who safely led us across large intersections as we thanked them for volunteering and they encouraged us to keep going. Sunday, the final day, the conversation was in the form of a group sing along that my team instigated as we encountered an intimidating hill in DC. That sing along continued to pick up participants and lasted for miles until we stopped for lunch.
Everyday citizens and non-walkers talked to us as well. Horns beeped along every avenue. Folks came out of office buildings in the rain on Friday just to clap for us. A man passed us on the sidewalk Sunday in Friendship Heights and simply said “God Bless You.” At a stop to refuel near the end of the race two gentleman hanging outside a restaurant and watching the parade of walkers told us of their family members who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sidewalk chalk decorated driveways with the pink breast cancer ribbon. One homeowner simply hung a pink t-shirt on the door. Supporters lined the streets offering candy, mints, band aids and kind words.
All of these experiences spoke volumes to me. I heard the voice of humanity loud and clear. I understood that men, women and children can unite for one cause and feel—even for the briefest of moments—that they can make a difference. I listened to my heart and cried almost every day for the losses suffered, for the kindnesses offered and the first glimpse of my children who came to meet me on Saturday.
After the closing ceremonies Sunday where we raised our voices in unison one last time, I came home to find a present from my sons. A welcome home sign and a pink balloon containing one single word “Courage” awaited me. I shed my final tears of the weekend as I hugged the boys and thanked them for the tribute.
On Monday my son Drew said he wanted to talk to me. He proceeded to ask if we could let the balloon they had given me go up to heaven. Moments later all three boys released their grasp on the balloon’s pink ribbon and we watched it float upward. We were silent as we followed its ascent until it looked like it touched the clouds. We quietly went back into the house as the balloon drifted out of sight knowing that sometimes words can’t do the moment justice.