On a Saturday in June 2010, two months after my treatments had ended, my husband, sister, and a handful of friends joined me in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides walk in Marin County. As we registered, I inquired about the survivors’ ceremony I’d been told would be taking place. There was none, though I did receive a survivor’s medal, complete with pink ribbon. When I sounded a bit disappointed at the lack of celebration, my sister told me, “Let’s remember why we’re here.”
Of course. It took my “little” sister, 12 years younger than I, to remind me that it’s the raising awareness for the fight against breast cancer that’s important. Raising funds for research is important, too. It was special to have my sister there. It was part of why I walked. I don’t want her to have to fear the words, “You have breast cancer.” I want to do whatever it takes to find a cure. For her. For all of us.
There were a few remarks before the walk. I teared up somewhat. But I did not cry. That was a good sign because it meant I was moving on. The master of ceremonies was, himself, a breast cancer survivor. I told him about the pinup calendar I’d picked up at the radiation center in Rohnert Park. The featured survivor for my birth month August was male. The day’s MC seemed eager to know about a fellow male survivor. He found the calendar at one of the booths and grinned as he showed it to me. I got to thinking, with the disease so prevalent among women, it must be lonely to be a male survivor.
Some two hundred people, volunteers and walkers, turned out to make the three-mile stroll along the path from Mill Valley to Sausalito. It was a brisk, foggy morning that gradually gave way to a brilliant blue sky. Patches of fog melted off overhead as we ambled along the waterfront trail. Smiles, cheers, and high spirits were in abundance. We watched egrets in the marsh as they fished for breakfast. Flashes of silver slid into their beaks and down their throats. At the midway point, there were leis and noise makers for the hikers. A bagpiper played for the occasion. I took a picture of her posing with my sister and a friend.
We talked about everything and nothing as we strolled. My sister surged out in front. Two friends lagged behind, as the dog one had brought slowed them down. Afterward we gathered in a nearby coffee shop to warm up and talk. It was low-key and fun. I was glad to have walked. It closed the chapter.
Or so it seemed. Two months after I celebrated my survival with the June walk, my mother passed away from pancreatic cancer. Her diagnosis was shocking. Her passing, four days before my birthday, devastating. When my father heard that I still wanted our traditional family gathering on my birthday he called me, incredulous. “I hear you want a party,” he said. I told him, “Not long ago, I didn’t know whether I’d get another birthday. I do want to honor this one.” It was hard. But the family came together. For me, that was the main thing. I share this to show that exhilaration at having survived cancer can be fleeting. We survivors have to try harder to create a “normal” life.