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May 03, 2008

Avon Walking

Avon1 As a patient, I found that the hardest part about fighting breast cancer was the feeling that I had to do it alone. 

Just a few months ago, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.  At 34, my world consisted of playdates and walks in the park, simple times with my two baby boys that I enjoyed with all my heart.  With the diagnosis, though, my world changed in an instant.  Days at the beach were replaced with days in bed.  Sunny afternoons in the park were few and far between, as I became unable even to drive or lift my little one out of his car seat.  Regular trips downtown to visit the museums were put on hold, as I visited the hospital instead.  Although I knew that treatment was necessary for me to have a chance at life again, it was difficult for me to give up the good times and turn to fighting cancer instead.

No one brings a party to the chemo ward.

When I think back on all those lonely mornings waiting for the IV drip of chemotherapy, the quiet afternoons as I struggled to move my utterly fatigued body, and the evenings where I would fall asleep with my toddler, I shudder.  It was not a good time in my life, and not one that I'm likely to ever be thankful for.

Except ... something amazing happened to me when I fought cancer.  My friends rallied to my side, calling and emailing and twittering and blogging, bringing meals, bringing treats for my boys, bringing me closer to the outside world as they told me of the latest happenings in playgroup here or on the other side of the world.  I became very close to an incredible group of women who banded together and called themselves Team WhyMommy, after the nickname I used on my blog.  These simple acts of friendship, bestowed quickly and easily even though most of them only knew me through the internet, helped see me through my illness and give me the daily courage I needed to continue treatment, and to heal.

Two weeks ago, I was declared cancer-free.  There is now no evidence of cancer in my body, and I push myself more and more every day to exercise, to eat right, and to be there to raise my baby boys.  The boys are now 15 months and 3.5 years old, growing like weeds, and they are happy little boys who make friends everywhere they go.  When I heard the news, I wanted more than anything to forget this year, to start over, and to live life without even thinking about cancer again.

Avon2 But today I saw something that changed my mind.  Three amazing friends walked in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer today, and we went down to cheer them on.  Before they walked around the corner and up the hill towards us, dozens of other women came by, in pairs and trios, large groups and small, and they had that look about them.  That look, that glow that tells the world, "I'm working hard.  I'm doing something I believe in," even as they smiled and waved at those of us sitting and standing and jumping up and down to cheer them on.  Each and every one of them was dedicated to walking this marathon.  Each and every one had raised $1800 or more, funds that will be given as grants for research, for breast cancer screening, and just for dinner for lonely and hungry cancer patients who need a hand.

These women, through Avon, even support a program to help pay for transportation, child care, and elder care necessary for lower income women to go to a breast cancer screening or treatment.  Having cancer has made me more aware not only of the costs of treatment, but that the costs are so high that many women fear to even have the screening done.  They are afraid to have a clinical breast exam or a mammogram, reasoning that they can't afford the treatment anyway.  But what I have learned is this:  there is help out there.  There are foundations that will pay for screening.  There are ways to pay for treatment.  There are good people in the world, whether we normally would meet them or not.

Avon3 Today I met hundreds of them, marching over the hill and to the day's finish line, weary but with smiles on their faces as they walk to help women with cancer.  I remember the determination of the first ones and the exhaustion of the later ones, but all the others are starting to blur into a line of pink angels, woman after woman, walking to honor friends they have lost and to help others who they have never even met.  I will remember this day for a long time. 

Post original to DC Metro Moms blog; Susan also blogs at Toddler Planet.

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