Last Saturday, June 7, 2008 was the Race for the Cure in Washington, DC. My sister, Jacqueline, had organized a team of about 40 people to walk in My Vision Foundation t-shirts behind a beautiful banner that listed me and my mother first as breast cancer survivors. Even most of my New York relatives drove down for the big day. My family was under the assumption that I had my first chemotherapy treatment Friday, June 6 and was unable to make the cross-country flight to walk with them. I kept them in the dark that my first chemo infusion was actually May 28 and that I was going to surprise them in front of the Smithsonian Museum where they were congregating just before the race began.
I had written each family member a thank-you card during that first chemo treatment. It helped me focus on what I was grateful for instead of the fear I felt of side effects that were soon to follow from the poison they were circulating through my veins. I had arranged for two friends to pass these cards out to everyone before I arrived. Each card began with a similar sentence, "I am writing you this note on my real chemo day so I could surprise you at the Race for the Cure." As I watched from behind a white tent each person begin to open their card, I had butterflies in my stomach. For a split second, I was worried they would all be angry at me for pulling off such a big lie! I called my Cousin Kathy's cell-phone, the only family member in on the big secret, and she passed it to my mom. My mother sounded very confused that I was calling given it was supposed to be 5 am in Los Angeles, the day after my supposed "first" chemo. I started to walk towards her and said, "Mom, you've been punked, turn around!"
Just then, all eyes were on me and all eyes burst into tears. No one could believe it was me. My mom and I embraced in a long hug, as she sobbed in happiness. I made my way around the circle hugging everyone and feeling their love strengthen me. Just the day before, I was hooked up to an IV hydration bag at my friend Sara's house while running a company off-site meeting remotely by phone. That morning, I was about to get some exercise exactly one week after I felt like I was dying from chemo and couldn't possibly handle three more rounds. To say the least, I too was pretty emotional.
We quickly assembled behind the banner and started to walk. As the sun blazed upon us in 94 degree humid heat, we, along with 55,000 other participants walked the streets of D.C. to help find a cure for this terrible disease. I looked for other young women like me in pink and didn't see too many. Wearing my pink shirt made my cancer that much more real. People looked at me with empathy and understanding. I read the backs of many shirts that read who that person was walking in honor of or in memory of. Seeing how many women died from breast cancer reminded me of what could've happened had I not found my tumor when I did. I felt the resolve build inside me to publicly advocate younger and younger women to perform routine breast self-exams. I also felt sadness as I considered my own mortality; the people I could've left behind, the grief these other people felt when their loved one lost her fight.
As I grew tired, my determination to finish became my energy fuel. I felt the momentum of all 55,000 people literally pull me towards the finish line. I felt like they were all walking for me. Tears were in my eyes as I thought of what brought each of them to this race. It was, as Melissa Etheridge sings "I run for hope. I run to feel, I run for the truth of all that is real. I run for your mother, your sister, your wife, I run for you and me my friend. I run for life."
My mom, who had never finished the race before kept saying, "If Alice is doing it, 10 days after chemo, then I am doing it." I'll never forget her resolve. She walked for me, not her, the same indelible love and strength she has always shown as my mom. Her life will be and has always been for her children. Cancer messed with one of them and she was going to symbolically show that malignant intruder that we were stronger than it.
As we made our way towards the finish line, I spotted my younger brother, Mike, waiting for the team to finish since he and his girlfriend Jen ran the race instead of walking. He hadn't seen me yet, and with a look of happy shock on his face, he said "Is that Alice?!" My mom and I joined hands with the banner right behind us. I could hear my old high-school basketball coaches creed echo in my head "Alice, be a finisher." She might have been referring to my lay-ups on a fast-break back then, but her words have stayed with me over the years and I have applied them to every aspect of my life.
I knew I'd finish, I knew as I crossed that line, my life would never be the same again. As the announcer, read my name and my mother's, we crossed the finish line victorious. I wept inside as only I knew what it took to make it through that first chemo week, sick, tired and in so much pain, I can only describe as being run over by a Mack truck. I knew what it took to get to D.C. to be with my family. My victory in finishing was so much greater than simply walking 3.2 miles. It signified what I already endured, what I will endure three more times and what it will take to turn my foundation into a legacy.
I run for you.