Many of you know that my mom died of breast cancer at age 38. I was eight years old and the oldest of three sisters. She was diagnosed while pregnant with my youngest sister, who was three when Mom died. I grew up with a child’s memories of my mom–of the silly songs she taught us like “Skinnamarinky-dinky-dink” (wa-ay before Sharon, Lois & Bram!); of her strong faith in God and her involvement at church; of her playing the piano and singing solos in a rich alto voice; of her illness and numerous hospital visits and the housekeepers we had to keep the household running; of our family coping after her death and my dad telling us it was okay to cry when we were sad.
I appreciated the fact that many family and friends talked about her and kept her memory alive even after Dad re-married and our family doubled, and that was okay with him. In my eyes, and through the memories shared by others, she was revered for her faith, the way she lived her life and how she handled her illness with the help of the Lord. She left letters and tape recordings for us so that we would know how much she loved us and would like to have seen us grow up. As an adult, I grieved on a level I could not have known as a child, and wished I could have known my mom as an adult, woman to woman.
I also grew up with the very real possibility that breast cancer could affect my sisters or me, someday, sometime. In fact, the sister who was in utero when my mom was diagnosed had, at age 48, her own breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and reconstruction and is now cancer-free.
When I first heard about the Weekend to End Breast Cancer Walk in 2005, my interest was piqued. Walkers would walk 60 km. through the city over two days, raising money to benefit the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Interesting, but that’s all it was the first year I heard about it. My daughter Alida happened to live on the Walk route, and after she saw hundreds of Walkers go by, she proposed that she and Esther and I do the Walk together. We thought about the challenge of it all—could we raise the $2000 required to even participate? Could we even walk that kind of distance without dying?? We decided we could. We would walk in honor of Mom/Grandma Dorothy. We would rise to the fundraising and physical challenge. We would walk with hope for our future and that of all women. We would even dye our hair pink and have fun with all things pink and “boob-ish”!
So we did. It was grueling but very satisfying and worthwhile. We walked one year, two years, three years. I have walked four times and my daughters have walked three times each. Lloyd and I served on the support Crew last year and he did so again this year while Esther and I walked. Together, we have raised thousands of dollars toward breast and gynecological cancer research, treatment and education, and some of you have been a part of that.
This year at a rest stop, I overheard a TV reporter asking one of the male Walkers how he would summarize his participation. It got me thinking how I would answer the question. Later I signed the big Walk banner with my name and my answer–Tribute, Challenge, & Hope.
But there is another aspect to my cancer walks besides that of honoring my mom and her memory, and then acknowledging my sister’s cancer journey. Our WM theme passage for this year from Ecclesiastes 4 focuses on community: 9 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10 If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11 Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12 A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.Ecc. 4:9-12 New Living Translation (NLT)
As we were talking about these verses a couple of weeks ago, it suddenly hit me: two can stand back-to-back and conquer (Ecc. 4:12)! Each year, I have printed the names of my donors on pink ribbons, pinned them to my pack, and “carried them with me” as I walked. I told my donors, You’ve got my back in this very significant undertaking—you are going with me and lending moral support, as well as your financial and prayer support. In a way, having them “on my back” was a demonstration of Ecclesiastes 4:12, that we need support from others in order to “conquer” the challenges of life. We all need community–to be tied together by what we have in common, by our joint “ownership” of a project, by our shared faith—to keep us strong and enable us to do what we can’t do on our own.
The Walk is a fantastic demonstration of the power of community. No one did it alone; besides the donors who supported Walkers financially, there was always someone to give a high-five, to encourage someone who stopped to doctor a blister, to listen to a story, to help us cross a busy street, to encourage us when we thought we couldn’t walk another step. The Walk not only honored my mom and recognized the cancer journey of my sister, it demonstrated on many levels how much we need each other.