Monday, October 4, 2010

racing for the cure


Do something I've never done before---it's not on the list, but SHOULD BE!

This is Blanca.  Blanca is the first person in my family to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Let me back up and explain.

Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods.  Neighborhoods that are made up of communities.  Communities with lots of people who become your extended family.  I live in that kind of community now, and I grew up in that kind of community. Growing up my mom's "Mom duties" didn't just end with extended to the countless friends I had in the neighborhood, who would come over for dinner, or stay the night.  My friends' moms would become my moms too.  And when I went to their homes, same rules applied.  Blanca is the mom of two of my friends, so she has known me for awhile. So while she's not MY mom, she's part of my extended community family..and that is how I can say: 

Blanca is the first person in my family to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Without going into all of the details, she was diagnosed and went through treatment for the bulk of last year.  It was one hell of a year, but she is now in remission and gets the title of "survivor."

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Blanca announcing that she would be walking in this year's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  My first thought was, "sure I'll donate, but I wonder if she'll let me walk with her."  I've always wanted to do the Race for the Cure.  I even want to do the Breast Cancer 3 day, but I didn't think I could raise the money (well, my Over the Edge  fundraising experience really invalidates that reason!)  I've always thought about doing the Race for the Cure, but didn't have anyone to do it with.

So I asked. 

And she said sure.

Today I walked with Blanca.

We met at her house before the sun came up.  When we got to the location of the race, we were there just as they were setting up for the Survivor's Photo, so we scrambled to get over there and Blanca took her place on the stands.

At first there were a few women, so I snapped a photo on my crappy cell phone.  I didn't have the Canon with me...and I regretted it for the rest of the day.

Then a few more showed up...

And then more...until finally it was just a sea of pink.

Survivors got to wear special pink shirts while the rest of us wore white.  It wasn't until I saw that sea of pink grow and grow in front of me that I really "got it."  I didn't understand why this cause got so much attention--there are deadlier cancers out there, after all, but once I saw this special sorority of women warriors, I got it.

Women hold up half the sky.

These women are all someone's mother, or wife, or sister, or aunt, or daughter, or cousin, or neighbor, or best friend.  We all know that women are almost always the nucleus of our families.  I come from a long line of awesome women, and it's evident in my own mother is the backbone of my family who provides support and strength and stability.  My grandmother is the hearth where we all gather around and feel her warmth.  My great grandmother was my confidante and number one cheerleader.

Women make families work.

And when something threatens to take women out of our families...we rally.

So we waited for the rest of Blanca's group to arrive, and milled around checking out the booths (there were a TON).  When we found the rest of Blanca's group, Nueva Vida, they donned their pink wigs and we got ready to roll.

 After many, many, many photos were taken, we started to walk.  

The sheer number of walkers would've been enough to blow you away.  But when you're walking in the crowd, you can't help but feel the solidarity.  You feel the hope and positivity.  You feel the strength in numbers.  

As we walked, I looked around and saw other women in pink Survivor shirts and thought about them and their families.  All of those women can tell the story of the day they received their diagnosis.  All of those women remember what it felt like to break the news to their families.  They can remember the burning of radiation, the shedding of their hair, and sickness of chemotherapy.  They can remember what it's like to have to decide which body parts to sever, in order to save the rest.  

Selfishly I pray I never learn what that feels like.  I'm so lucky that I have no history in my immediate family.  So that's one advantage.  But you can never think you are immune.

It could happen to me.  It could happen to my mom.  It could happen to Sadira.

And so we walked.

Some groups wore shirts honoring women who didn't survive their battle with breast cancer.  One group had t-shirts for Bev...who was born in 1969 and passed away on August 19th, 2010 of breast cancer.  For Bev's family and friends the wounds are still fresh.  Their grief is still raw.

And so we walked.

And we walked until we reached the finish line.

At the end there was a human tunnel of people cheering and the Survivors were supposed to run through while receiving their high fives.  Blanca's not really one to call attention to her illness, so she tried to dart off to the right and avoid the line, but I wasn't going to let that happen.   I had to grab her and practically stuff her in and didn't let go until I knew she couldn't escape because there were more people behind her.  I wanted her to feel the positive energy, and all of the love and support coming from these perfect strangers who were celebrating her, and her survival!

There were cheers, tears, hugs and rejoicing.  The Survivors were celebrated like rockstars.  These women warriors who fought their bodies and WON.  We celebrated them, their journeys, their survival and the fight to end this cancer in honor of all of the women who lost their battles.

And so I'm grateful.  Grateful that Blanca is here with us today to do this walk.  Grateful that I not only got the chance to experience this, but also got to walk with an entire group of SURVIVORS!!  And grateful that so many are committed to trying to eradicate this cancer.

Now it's on to planning the 3 Day!


Anonymous said...

Awesome, awesome blog! How great that you were there to support Blanca and all the other survivors. You are an inspiration.

B. Renee' said...

This is amazing and very inspirational Nas! Keep up the great work ;-)

Anonymous said...

Your blogs always bring tears to my eyes. Blanca was so lucky to have you there with her, just as you are so lucky to have Blanca as such a strong female figure in your life. <3

Blanca said...

THANK YOU!! OMG! YOU MADE ME CRY WITH YOUR BLOG. Shannon is right about me being lucky to have you there for me. I introduced you to everyone as my adopted daughter and I mean that. You don't know how much I appreciate you being there to support me, and for being my personal photograghter. Not everyone can have that luxury.

And I really appreicate you "pushing me" into the "Survivors Tunnel". As I was going through that 'tunnel' I was thinking of how lucky I am to have someone like you and the rest of my family and friends to help me to be a SURVIVOR.

This blog is SO BEAUTIFUL! Thanks.

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