by Susan McBride
Last Saturday, I woke up to the alarm buzzing at 6 a.m. and quickly dressed in my running shoes, yoga pants, and my hot pink T-shirt so I'd be ready at 6:30 when my ride showed up to head downtown for this year's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. St. Louis turned pink that day, from the fountain at Kiener Plaza to pink "ribbons" plastered on the sides of buildings. It was my fourth Race since I finished radiation treatment after my diagnosis of breast cancer in December of 2006, and I felt much different than I had back in June of 2007 when I first participated. Being a survivor was new to me then. Heck, I'd never felt "sick" in the first place, even after an MRI confirmed I had a lump in my left boob. It's amazing how three little words like "You've got cancer" can change your life.
Although I'd tried to stay fit during my surgeries and rad therapy, it meant strolling on the treadmill or unloading the dishwasher so that my left arm could regain enough mobility to finally reach the top cabinet shelf. When I walked in the Race in 2007 with Ed, my good friend and fellow survivor Shelly, and Shelly's hubby Jerry, I didn't know what to expect. Would I even be able to finish the 5k? Would someone bump my left boob (I was afraid of that for a loooong time)? Would I be so overwhelmed that I'd cry?
Shelly and I did skip the "Survivors' Walk," which they do early on before the Race starts, because she warned me it was very, very emotional. I decided that I'd done enough bawling after my diagnosis, and I prefered to avoid further tears. So we ran around to some of the freebie booths (Ed thinks it's funny that women who survive breast cancer aren't afraid to trample each other to collect bags of free loot). Then we took our Race team pictures, and I hung out with some of the St. Louis Public Library team members (love those library ladies!). Music blared and people hugged, and a sense of affirmation bubbled up inside me so that I had tears in my eyes anyway!
Once the Race started, we were all business. I remember Shelly and Jerry booking so fast I wondered how I'd ever keep up! I kept downing bottled water as I walked, telling myself, "You can do this, you can do this." That was important somehow, just finishing the Race and not collapsing. People cheering the Racers from the sidewalks hooted especially loud when Shelly and I passed in our "Survivor" T-shirts. At first, that unnerved me. Why all the fuss? What had I done? I mused until I realized we stood for something to them: HOPE. If we had survived and were fit enough to briskly walk a 5k, then, by God, they could climb over obstacles, too.
This year, it was weird to imagine that I'm 3-1/2 years post-diagnosis. I felt strong as I walked--and, baby, I walked fast!--and, once again, I was initially surprised to hear the loud cheers from the sidelines. Although now it's more because I feel very ordinary compared to the many women I've met since my diagnosis who've gone through what I've gone through (and much tougher stuff, too). I am surrounded by these ladies--my heroes--on a daily basis, and I don't know what I'd do without them. When I whine about aches and pains, they make me laugh and, as importantly, they make me feel like I'm normal (or at least as normal as I'll ever be!). Because if there's one thing that having had cancer takes away from you, it's the sense of normalcy. Oh, yeah, the scars it leaves on your skin have nothing on the havoc it's wreaked in your head.
Although when you're walking in a sea of over 71,000 people, nearly 5,000 of them survivors, as I did at the Race this past Saturday, you realize how NOT alone you are. Once you're a member of this huge pink army, you're a member for life.
P.S. Speaking of being in the pink, I've got a PINK, GEEK, AND CHIC CONTEST going on at my web site. You could win a hot pink tote bag, some hot books, and a DVD of "Star Trek" (the one with Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk)! Good luck!