Friday, December 2, 2011

Wanting To Quit (But I Didn't)

In this past year and within the same week, I had two friends – both young moms of four children – diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was saddened and shocked and had the thought, “That could be me!” run through my head more than once.  About a week after my friends were diagnosed, my other (crazy) friend Michelle asked if I would consider doing the Susan G. Komen 3-Day For The Cure with her.  It took me about two seconds to reply with a resounding YES!  YES I will walk 60 miles in three days!  YES I will camp and go without electricity for three days!  YES I will raise the money!  YES I will support my friends and push myself to every limit!  YES!

[Let’s pause here and let me state that this is NOT about the moral quandary of the Komen Foundation giving money to Planned Parenthood.  Believe me, I’ve heard and read all the arguments from people with their undies in a bunch over this.  If you do some simple research, you will find that some of the biggest supporters of Planned Parenthood are the Girls Scouts, Nike, Whole Foods, Adobe (the software), Johnson & Johnson, eBay, Ford, Target, General Mills, American Express, AARP, Unilever, Bank of America, Walt Disney – the list goes ON AND ON!  Over thirty percent of PP grants came from the federal government…as in your taxes.  So please back down a bit.  And thank you.]

Needless to say, about three months into training, my enthusiastic YES was a grumbling bunch of “why-did-I-say-yes?” and “I-CANNOT-do-this!” and “what-was-I-smoking-when-I said YES?” whines.  Michelle wasn’t too far away in her lamenting.  Michelle’s friend Lisa, who was the third spoke in our wheel of amazingness, was eternally optimistic and cheerful…so we’re just not gonna talk about her.

I learned a number of things about myself, about others and about life in general while on the 3-day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) walk.  Which was in Chicago.  In August.  Therefore, some lessons learned were purely simple (I really, truly DO NOT like the heat) and some were much deeper as I spent lots of time with some amazing men and women.

PORTA POTTIES WON’T KILL ME:  They may even make my immune system stronger!  Between my two teen sons, I sit at a LOT of baseball games – about 150 each year.  The majority of the baseball fields have porta potties.  I am the mom who holds it, or drives to the nearest place with indoor plumbing when the holding it option is no longer going to work.  While on the 3-day walk, my ONLY option was a porta potty.  Yes, they were well maintained and set up just for the thousands of us who participated in the walk, either as a walker, volunteer or employee.  However, they were still porta potties, sitting there in sunny, 90-degree weather.  And do you know what?  As each day marched on, the issues I used to have faded away.  My practice of “making a nest” before using any kind of public bathroom (this rear is NOT touching a public seat) went away for those three days.  With the heat and sweat, it didn’t require complete genius to realize I’d be peeling off toilet paper in a most unlady-like manner if I went with the nest option.  In those three days, I contracted no disease or rashes, and I gagged not once.  I thanked all the ladies who had the duty of reloading the toilet paper in and cleaning those portable bathrooms.  The thought that I was dealing with porta potties while scores of others were dealing with chemo and radiation was not lost on me, and I got over myself real quick.

SHOWERING IN A TRUCK IS WEIRD, NOT BAD: After the porta potty issues, you’d think I would boldly walk into the semi-truck, all fears aside, ready to shower.  But I’m a slow learner.  Near the tents at our camping site, there was a line of semi truck beds with stairs leading up to each truck.  Inside were stalls with privacy curtains, a little bench area and then the shower stall itself, set apart with another privacy curtain.  There was a guy’s truck and the rest were for us women-folk.  It was really weird, but honestly, it was absolutely wonderful to step into a refreshing shower!  We got clean and that was the whole goal of a shower.  It was not luxurious, but it served its purpose.  And, I respect ANY woman who was able to shave her legs in that stall.  While showering on a truck was not on my bucket list, it DID make me cross one more “I can’t do THAT!” item off my list of impossibilities.

PUBLIC PAJAMAS ARE SOMETIMES OK: After the shower, I changed into my “Sweet Stuff” pink jammies and continued my evening.  There were many sets of sinks outside the shower trucks and that’s where we all brushed our teeth and hair (no hair dryers), applied creams and lotions and whatever else was a part of our night time routine.  On an average day (ok, on ANY day) I would never walk around my neighborhood in my jammies and wearing no makeup.  But on the 3-day walk, I realized everything was basically public.  Heck, I slept six inches away from total strangers in the tent next to me.  I shattered so many of my “I’d NEVER do that in public” statements.  In some ways, all sense of personal pride was gone, but we were all in the same situation.  Oh sure, there were the Barbie doll types who didn’t sweat or stink, and wore full makeup every day and somehow their hair was always gorgeous…nothing like the frizzed ‘do I sported.  But, we just avoided those cheerleader types and were fine!  And, I kept thinking of my friends who had to decide if they should go in public with their wig or scarf.  And, somehow, jammies and no make up in public seemed like such a trivial worry.

ESSENTIAL - MOISTURE WICKING UNDERPANTS:  Who knew?  And who knew we had so many sweat glands in our body?  (Aren't you glad there's no picture here?!)

A GOOD CUP OF COFFEE IS NECESSARY:  I cannot operate without coffee.  I have tried and it has been (I’m about to make my kid proud for using this phrase...) an epic fail.  The powers that be really didn’t like us to drink caffeine on the 3-day walk because it acts as a diuretic and depletes the body of fluids.  There were some cups of black beauty available in the morning, but it was about 1:30pm that I needed it most…and all we were given was water and Gatorade.  One of the happiest moments on the walk was when we turned a corner and saw a coffee shop across the street.  We took our sweaty, stinky, makeup-less selves into that shop and my iced Americano was JUST what I needed.  Honestly, I think it gave me the energy – physical and emotional – to carry on.  And ya know, as long as it’s not immoral or illegal, sometimes we all need that little perk and boost to keep us going.

THE KINDNESS OF STANGERS IS PRICELESS:  I was literally moved to tears by the kindness, support and love shown to us walkers.   And, the best part is that it wasn’t limited to the large groups that gathered at the prescribed “cheering stations.”  On a residential street, there was a little girl sitting with her mom at a table with a free lemonade stand, just for us walkers!  On a different street, there was a middle-aged guy sitting on a chair on his front lawn, playing his guitar, which was plugged into an amp that was attached to extension cords.  This man chose to spend part of his afternoon sitting in the heat, just to play and smile at us and tell us “Good job!” as we walked by.  There were people handing out freezer pops, kids making Gatorade sno-cones, people standing there with baskets of cookies, waving pink pom poms, and doing numerous other small gestures of encouragement.  I wish I could tell each and every one of them that EVERY piece of encouragement was magnified due to our state of extreme fatigue, frustration and blisters.  The people who left cases of water bottles on their front lawns with signs reading “good job walkers!” – like a feast to a starving person!  The sister-hood and brother-hood among the walkers was REAL and I felt it.  The walkers were actually looking out for each other and I felt safe and appreciated the whole time.  Even when we had to get into a sweep van to bring us to the next rest stop, we were cheered, patted on the back and given more verbal affirmation than I thought possible.  If I ever doubted the impact of kindness or the value in the time used to practice some thoughtfulness, I am fully convinced it’s all worth it.  Even if the recipient never says thank you.  When in need, the smallest gesture feels like a million bucks!  For the 2012 walk I will definitely be on the sidelines cheering on the weary, often teary walkers.  Who can’t use another cheerleader in life?

HANDWIRTTEN NOTES WILL NEVER GO OUT OF STYLE, EVER:  What I’ve kinda glossed over up to this point is the fact that after the first day of walking, I was sitting in my tent, crying and wanting to go home.  I am sure I wasn’t the only walker in this situation.  The plan was to walk about 22 miles the first day, and I only walked 15.  Thinking I had let down all my supporters was shameful.  My body was worn out, the over-heated feeling never left, we had to pitch our tents on a parking lot due to flooding in the grassy field and I was feeling nauseated from the heat and minor dehydration.  At camp there was an area where we could go and pick up mail.  (AND, the THREE chocolates that some girlfriends sent to me!)  For a few months leading up to the 3-day walk, I begged on Facebook and via emails, asking people to send mail to me at the 3-day camp. Imagine my total shock when I went to pick up my mail and I couldn’t hold it all!  I received 55 pieces of mail!  I cried when I saw all the mail and cried again as I read each and every note, letter and card.  The cards were from dear friends, some family and people I now only “see” on Facebook.  I was humbled beyond words.  I was encouraged, given renewed hope and challenged to “stick with it.”  I got the distinct feeling that NO ONE was going to think less of my 3-day walk efforts if I didn’t walk every step of every mile.  The written words were like a good ‘ol strong cuppa coffee for my soul!  I am 100% convinced that it was the words of love, encouragement, humor and care that gave me the necessary stamina to “stick with it” even though I didn’t want to.

Seriously, I could barely hold all the mail!
MY LIFE IS GOOD:  I am sad to report that I often whined during those 3 days of walking in the heat of August.  I did an awful job of always keeping my happy face on, and sometimes I just wanted to pinch the upbeat, cheery walkers.  (Lisa, please tell everyone that neither Michelle nor I pinched you.  Or kicked you in the knees.)  But, the life-stories of my co-walkers snapped me out of my pathetic whining.  The men and women who had experienced such heartbreak and loss from the ugly beast known as cancer was sobering.  The testimonies of beauty from ashes and hope from pain were uplifting.  It was like a megaphone in my face reminding me that life is precious and my life is really darn good.  I had raised over $3,000, had two pair of good shoes JUST for this walk, a snappy fanny pack, moisture-wicking underwear and FIFTY-FIVE people who loved me enough to write me a note!  It was like perspective given intravenously and it quickly went systemic!  When I arrived at the end of the walk at Soldier Field and saw my family and some dear friends, the tears started again!  Yes, my life is good and I am a blessed woman.

This woman's t-shirt said it perfectly.

SOLDIER FIELD IS BEAUTIFUL: Let’s just say that I have NEVER been happier to enter a sporting stadium.  EVER.

I LOVE MY SOFA:  When I got home on Sunday evening, I showered and ate pizza, in that order.  Then, I sat down on my sofa and that fast turned into lying down.  It was then that it hit me that I had not sat on anything more comfortable than a folding chair after I got out of our car about 5am on Friday morning.  I appreciated my sofa in a whole new way.

My two friends have been through their surgeries and treatments and are doing well and they both have a good prognosis!

While on the walk, I got two buttons that summed up my weekend perfectly.

Button one: I thought you said 3 miles in 60 days!

Button two: Blisters don’t need chemo.

Michelle, Lisa and me - worn out, sweaty, swollen, tired and overheated - but WE DID IT!!!