Friday, September 24, 2010

Anything is Possible, Part Deux

3-Day Diary

Day One, Friday, July 23

6 am. The sun is out! We’ve just arrived at Farm Pond in Framingham, site of the Opening Ceremonies, and as I step off the shuttle bus that has delivered us from our hotel in Natick to where we now stand, it’s all I can see: reddish and searing bright, rising up and over the water, and illuminating all the pink that has gathered to glow and hum. A year ago, we began the 3-Day in a cold, torrential rain storm that turned the site into a mud bowl, soaked our sneakers long before we had taken our first official steps, and lasted most of the day. But this year…the sun is up with us, working its magic, and everything feels much more hopeful.

My team of 13 women and men—The Blue Footed Boobies—have come from afar to walk these 60 miles over three days together, and as we retrieve our duffels from the underbelly of the bus, I am aware of an urgency to stick close together. As their Captain and as their friend, I feel responsible for each and every one of them, but they make it easy.  Up until yesterday, when we all gathered for the first time as a team, the team had been separated by simple geography, with the Northern Boobies training together here in Franklin County, and the Southern Boobies—three wonderful, old friends of mine from high school and college—gutting it out on their own in their respective neighborhoods: Carlos, in the Fort Lauderdale area, Mike, in Orlando, and Dara, in Atlanta. Now that we’ve come together, it feels like a warm and wonderful reunion, not just for me, but for everyone, thanks to an ongoing exchange of hilarious emails and Facebook postings that allowed us all to come together in spirit long before we had all actually done so in person.

While eleven of us will be walking--Carlos, Mike, Dara, Jeanne, Barb, Cindy, Gretel, Marggie, Rachel, Meg, and myself--two, Gail and Damon, my mother, will be serving as part of the indispensable crew team, helping to keep us safe, well fed, and happy. Gail has already been hard at work since Thursday morning, helping to set up the 3-Day Camp where we will rest our weary heads (and feet) for two nights. My mother, who walked with me last year, opted to crew this year, and we are hoping that her assignment--Camp Safety--allows our paths to cross many times throughout the weekend.  Though I am not sure where I might see her, I am eager to be able to check in with her and make sure she is doing okay.

Duffels in hand, we walk towards the jumble of crew members, all decked out in colorful, matching shirts, wide open smiles, and eagerly reaching out to take our bags to the row of pre-assigned gear trucks that will deliver our exceptionally well-packed essentials to Base Camp.  Packing for the 3-Day requires meticulous care--everything, from air mattress and sleeping bag and tarps to individually packed outfits for Days Two and Three, the all-important extra pair of sneakers, shower shoes, and only the most necessary toiletries (toothbrush, comb, soap, shampoo)--has to be well-chosen, road-tested, and then packed and double-packed in zipped plastic bags to protect it from the rain that will inevitably fall at some point along the way.  There is no room for anything extraneous, save a small pillow for comfort, a paperback book, a thin journal.   This is, after all, guerilla packing: there’s a feeling that we’re headed out to walk some larger-than-life, Cormac McCarthy-infused Road, with all the peril and unexpected salvation, and if we forget something, we could be putting ourselves at dire risk.  Of course, the route will be nothing like the post-apocalyptic Road, the only dangers ours for the making, and we are well taken care of along the way, but the sense that everything we have packed fills a critical role on this adventure remains.  What we haven’t packed in our duffels, we wear around waists in fanny packs, or over shoulders in small back packs, a veritable 3-Day survival kit, containing everything and anything we might need along our trek: extra socks, snacks, water bottles to be refilled every 3-4 miles at Pit Stops, electrolytes, blister kits, Advil, Arnica, cameras, cell phones.  My own fanny pack is stuffed to the brim; if Monty Hall should suddenly appear and ask for something out of the ordinary, I’d win some big bucks.

As soon as I hand off my duffel, I feel infinitely lighter, ready to go.  It crosses my mind that the next time we see our bags, they might be sitting in a puddle of water, being pelted by heavy rains.  But it’s a fleeting worry--and unsubstantiated, given how many layers of plastic are covering everything--and I leave it behind to walk with my team deeper into the Pink--that bubble of sweet humanity that surrounds us on the 3-Day and fills us with gratitude and love.  Amidst all the earnest helpfulness, I spy my mother, directing walkers to the gear trucks, waving, smiling, trying to get my attention. Our tears are instantaneous. This is to be such a morning. And this, too, is what makes the 3-Day completely addictive: the genuine, heart felt kindness and compassion of the people along the way, from crew and walkers to people who come out to cheer us on and thank us for walking, and the tenacity and spirit that joins people together in a most spectacular kind of human triumph.  Known affectionately as the Pink, it is what brings walkers and crew back, year after year, and inspires us go home and try to recreate some of the Pink’s magic in our own daily lives.  After experiencing it first last year, I knew instantly that I had to experience it again. 

Just six months after my breast cancer diagnosis in the winter of 2008, I went looking for something, anything that would help heal my broken spirit, mend my patchwork body.  I had found some clutch inspiration just a few weeks after my mastectomy, first in April, watching the Boston Marathon—with its gritty, uplifting, iconic images of heroes like the Hoyts and the scads of everyday folk who dig deep and do something amazing—and later, in June, in the Celtics’ Ubuntu-inspired championship run that brought back the magic of the Bird era, and reminded me that “Anything is possible.” (thank you, KG).  And so it was that I found my wings, and signed on for my first 3-Day, in a fit of wanderlust and hopefulness, and founded the Blue Footed Boobies, named after the beautiful, fearless, whimsical birds who made our 2006 visit to the Galapagos so magical.  Instantly emboldened by simply having this on my calendar, my spirit soared.  After all, I had always loved to walk, and walking, even long distances, was the one thing I was allowed and able to do while recovering from my surgeries. And as tempted as I was to walk the Boston 3-Day in July of 2008, I agreed to wait until after the surgeries and procedures to fully install my new girl were complete. I threw myself into training, gradually building up to long, challenging walks on the hills of Gill, Williamstown, Guilford. It all felt good, an expanding lightening of being, an all-over buzzing sensation of being very much alive. 

That first year, I walked with four friends, including my mother, who, at the age of 69, walked each and every mile on two artificial hips (making us the Bionic Boobies).  I was proud of my team for their fortitude and dedication. As well, I had proven to myself that cancer had not defeated me.  Body and spirit mended, I re-established trust in my physical being, and reclaimed a sliver of that invincibility that had been shattered by my diagnosis. But I knew that my recovery journey was not over. Being a breast cancer survivor is an ongoing, lifelong passage through the cycles of fear and dread and deep relief that arrive with every regular checkup and blessed test result.  The scars are deep.  The 3-Day proved to be a powerful way to get back into my body, open my heart, and experience the intensity of life--a cathartic release of sweat and tears, making room for all that good Juju to stream in and smooth out the cracks, fill me up and carry me through.   How could I not go back for more?

Fortified by teary hugs from my Mom, we make our way into the fields of pink along the water‘s edge, where I can more fully take in what last year’s rain had all but obscured: the pink banners, tents, crew members in different color shirts bustling about, walkers arriving from all quarters, and everyone, it seems, positioning themselves for an early entrance into the holding area close to the stage and its mega sound system.

We stake out our spot as close to the gates as possible, a jumbled heap of fanny and hydration packs, water bottles, and extra layers that we’ve already shed marking our territory, and begin to make our final preparations, stretching, using the porta potties, filling up our water bottles, and re-lacing sneakers.  We’ve already pre-treated our heavily callused feet, coating them with un-petroleum jelly before slipping on wick-away, high-tech socks.  Before training for my first 3-Day, I used to think that socks were just socks, and I’d wear the same pair of sneakers for several years.  Since starting training in 2009, I’ve gone through eight pairs of running shoes, two pairs of custom-made orthotics, and have come to rely on special $15 socks that custom fit and cushion each foot in all the right places to prevent blisters and foot fatigue.  We’ve all come to appreciate the finer points of well-made work out gear, and yet, it is the smaller, personal touches--most gifts from each other--that mean the most, and unite us in battle dress and spirit.

Henna Gathering in Gill, Wednesday, July 21

With only two days to go before we head into Boston for the start of the 3-Day, the Boobies have gathered at my house in Gill, to finalize the logistics of car and luggage retrieval, paint each other’s toe nails blue, and exchange a most unexpected, wonderful batch of homemade, festive gifts: Cindy has made a large banner for the team, which will mark Boobie Camp, and which we will carry at the end of the Walk. Meg has made mixed cds for everyone, full of great walking music, and has painted everyone‘s names on Boobie-blue bandannas.  Gail is putting the finishing touches on ponchos from Cindy’s husband, which have already been decorated with the team logo by Cindy and Jan, an art teacher at NMH.  Barb has brought laminated luggage tags for everyone, complete with our credentials and favorite team photo of the blue bikini clad Blue Footed Boobie.  I’ve made BFB business cards, complete with silly officer-ships for everyone, Chief Officer of Procurement, Director of Luggage and Transportation, Chief Urination Officer, Team Horologist.  Gretel arrives with colorful bead pins that her kids have made for everyone on the team.  The best part is that there are extras of everything for the Southern Boobies, whom we will see tomorrow.

And there are the henna tattoos, a Blue Footed Boobies tradition that started last year, and the main reason for our coming together today.  This spring, I’ve hosted three henna night fundraisers, bringing women together for delicious, simple dinners, great company, and of course, beautiful henna tattoos by Kelly Flaherty, an incredibly talented henna tattoo artist from Shelburne Falls. Kelly’s own sister has been battling breast cancer this year, and the cause has taken on a new meaning for her.  With her help, we raised over $1000 in just three nights. We are grateful in so many ways.  Today, just forty-eight hours before the 3-Day, Kelly has generously more of her time to decorate and embolden the team with beautiful, bad ass henna tattoos, on arms, legs, chests, bellies, breasts.  An ancient art form with traditions going back to the Bronze Age, henna has long been used by women to embellish and honor each other, in celebration of battle victories, birth, and marriage, and to offer blessings in the form of  joy, luck, beauty, and fertility.  Earlier today, before the rest of the team arrived, Kelly gave me what I’ve been talking about getting for months: a henna-tattoo of a lizard, tail wrapped around my nipple, amidst a garden of flowers blooming on my chest.  Now suffused with love and beauty, my new left girl, with all her residual trauma and scars and strangeness, has been blessed.  It means a lot.  

Jeanne has raided the Dollar Store for pink leis and scepters and the biggest pair of pink framed sunglasses we’ve ever seen, and as we gather in the yard for a photo, we are well-adorned.  Many of us are wearing the wonderful, whimsical I <3 Boobies t-shirts created by local graphic designer Anja Schutz of Fruit & Sugar Industries, and the image--of two sprightly, vibrant blue-footed boobies walking side by side, feet slightly raised--is everywhere: on our shirts, on pins stuck to our packs, on our ponchos, and on the banner.  Heading into the Walk, we will all be emboldened by what we’ve given and received today: team gear--our form of battle dress--and a whole lot of team spirit, camaraderie, and affection for one another that has grown out of our months of training together and supporting one another throughout this journey, and that will steel and protect us along our upcoming 60-mile tour.

In a swirl of playful banter, the Southern Boobies and Northern Boobies are getting to know each other quickly.  Taking advantage of all the photo-ops.  Christening the blue lagoons.  Dancing to the awesome dance music blaring from the enormous sound system.  Ribbing each other for this and that.  Wondering what the weather will bring. Our ponchos, along with small portable umbrellas, have been folded deep down into the bottom of our packs to ward off rather than welcome the rain that is expected to hit later in the day.  We’ve been on a weather watch all week, and though we have trained in all kinds of extreme weather conditions, and know full well how weather can change on a dime in New England, we are hopeful that we can use our ponchos to decorate our tents, and nothing more. 

Several of us write the names of loved ones on memorial ribbons that will be displayed later at the Closing Ceremonies, and are suddenly pulled inward into our grief and sense of loss, to remind ourselves why we are walking, to unlock and share our tears with each other. The 3-Day echoes Life that way, with its alternating moments of joy and despair, the constant interplay and cycling of light and dark, and the ability within each and every one of us to hitch a ride on the rollercoaster and take it all in.  We dance, we cry, we laugh.  It’s all part of being a part of the Pink.  And even though we are all--walkers, crew, 3-Day perma-staff--in this together, there is a sense of team spirit that transcends the greater communal vibe. 
It doesn’t take long before Farm Pond is filled to the brim with the nearly 1600 walkers and several hundred crew members who have joined forces to not only walk sixty miles in three days but take care of each other along the way—a Walk symbolic of not only the miles and miles of training already put in, but also all the money raised for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. Given the numbers here this morning, altogether, it is an awe-inspiring, collective commitment and sacrifice of time and energy almost too enormous and impressive to fully comprehend.  And there are teams from all over—Texans for Tah Tah’s, Tigers for Ta Ta’s from Louisiana, the Granite Angels from New Hampshire, and the more local Wild Women Originals, The Pink Angels, The Cup Crusaders, Men with Heart and of course, the Blue Footed Boobies, from Gill, Shelburne, Northfield, Sunderland, Williamstown, Winchester, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.  That each walker here this morning has raised at least $2300, checking and rechecking their totals, and spent hours upon hours training, logging over 600 miles in training alone, fine-tuning gear, and preparing for this incredible experience is impressive. That many have come from so many miles away to share in this experience, is simply awesome. 

The fact that the 3-Day is able draw so many people in, get them to commit wide swaths of time, quite possibly our most precious resource today, and bring out their best for a single mission is testimony to how exceptional an organization Komen for the Cure is. Since 1982, when Nancy Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan Komen, that she would do everything in her power to put an end to breast cancer, the organization has invested more than 1.5 billion dollars to keep its promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.  Komen has basically created an army of people willing and able to fight together to find a cure.  Impressively, 85% of the proceeds from the Walk go towards breast cancer research and community programs. Here in Franklin County, Komen’s affiliates fund numerous programs to ensure that every woman has full access to screening and treatment. The 3-Day is their premier event, and Boston just the first of fifteen host cities.

I am struck, again, by the sense that being a part of the 3-Day allows us to not only be a part of something much bigger than ourselves, but also to climb into the Pink and feed off of the communal positivity and dedication that binds us all together, that essential, earthly interconnected spirit of humanity and gratitude and compassion that makes us who we are, and empowers us to do great things for each other. On this first morning, this energy is palpable, pulsating throughout the crowd, which is growing larger by the minute, and the Boobies, particularly the first time walkers, are pacing, beaming, soaking it all in. The Pink, a veritable pre-battle gathering of warriors at the ready, is bouncing, nearly frenetic with pent up energy and an inexorable anticipation.  It is a powerful place to be.   

Finally, the gates are opened, and along with the masses, we make our way to the front of the crowds, as close to the stage as possible, positioning ourselves for an easier exit onto the route.  One by one, speakers take the stage to gradually whip the crowd into a frenzy, and turn Opening Ceremonies into a cosmic blend of fist-pumping excitement and heart-wrenching motivation, a little pre-Walk inspiration-load.  The 3-Day soundtrack only adds to the heightened emotions, with the music deftly shifting to match our ever-changing moods.  There is good news, and bad.  The sponsors remind us just how far we have come in such a short time, the statistics staggering, but hopeful.  The cheers that rise up deep from the belly of the Pink are soon replaced by tears that fill us up and leak from just below the surface, as Ronnie, the woman who heads Komen’s Massachusetts affiliate, talks about how she‘s just had to tell her kids that her cancer is back.  Despite what she must be feeling--fatigue, discomfort, pain--she speaks loud and clear, urging us on, and sends us on our way with a simple message: the 3-Day saves lives, and that she, along with countless other survivors in the audience, is exceedingly grateful, for the statistics today are so much more hopeful than they were ten years ago, offering those facing a diagnosis with so many more treatment options, with so many more years.  More battle cries.  Jenne Fromm, the National Spokesperson for Komen, follows, and within the space of minutes has made us laugh, cheer, and cry out loud.  Jenne is a genuinely compassionate, down to earth person, and she is a pro; her words are carefully chosen and spoken for maximum effect, and she gets results, conjuring up all the people we’ve come to honor and memorialize--our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts and sisters, our friends, our selves--and sending us to spiral inward once again to fetch our grief and air out our sorrow.  

The tears come.  I pull Dara, who lost her older sister Valerie to breast cancer three years ago, close. We tilt heads together, cry.  All around us, people are doing the same thing, holding hands, linking arms, leaning on each other, spilling memories of loved ones lost in tears that roll unbridled down cheeks and faces rewritten with the pain of loss, the promise of fear, and the joy of life.  There are some who are trying desperately to hold it together, bear it up, stuff it back down, and the strain of their efforts show in their crossed arms and somber grimaces, crumbling fortresses.  And it is staggering to bear witness to this kind of emotional release, the collective loss at the same time overwhelming and reassuring.   Each one us has our own reasons for walking, reasons that have faces and names and it is in their honor and in their memory that we walk, the very purpose fortifying ourselves against all the elements of the 3-Day--tough weather conditions, blisters, pain, fatigue, and whatever hardship or discomfort that may come our way. 

And the Boobies are no exception.  Marggie lost her mother to breast cancer when she was just 22, and carries with her a bandanna filled with the names of all the women we are walking for, survivors and victims: my grandmother, who had breast cancer twice, lost her left breast, and lived her life with verve and grace; Meg’s and Mike’s mothers, a survivor and a victim; Barb’s good friend, who has battled metastatic breast cancer for eight years; Gretel’s babysitter, who has taken care of many of our children over the years; Rachel‘s grandmother who lost her battle this past January, and whose name--Joy--she wears on her arm in a beautiful henna tattoo thanks to Kelly; Rachel’s aunt, a two-time survivor; Kelly’s sister; and the three of us who are survivors on the team, myself, Jeanne, and Cindy.  There are many more names on the bandanna, too many to list, all with inspiring stories of courage and strength that we hold close and that urge us on. 

Rachel, at 28, is the youngest member of our team, my mother Damon, at 70, the oldest: despite the range, everyone gets along, takes care of each other, and is ready for this walk.  In between, there is Gretel, with three young children, comes next.  Gail.  There are a bunch of us in our mid-40’s: Marggie, myself, Dara, Mike, and Carlos.  Meg is a few years older.  Cindy, and then Barb.  Jeanne, at 63 the oldest walker on the team, has battled breast cancer twice.  She walked last year with me, for many of the same reasons I walked: to prove to herself that she could do it, that she was still invincible, a fighting spirit.  This year, though, she walks for and with Cindy, our friend and teammate, who stands just a few feet away, her tears testimony to what she’s gone through to get here this morning, and the struggles that lie ahead.  I know that this--this constant ebb and flow of emotional release--is hard for her, and as a group of survivors walk from stage to the round centerpiece to hoist banners and flags, I want to sweep through the crowd and wrap my arms around her.  Just this spring, in the midst of training, Cindy discovered that her inflammatory breast cancer was back, and had metastasized to her spine and ribs.  Cindy has inspired us all: in the midst of cancer treatments and chemo, she kept up with the intense training schedule, engineered team wide fundraisers, ponchos and banners, and kept us all smiling with her generous, infectious love of life.   Ironically, she has an aversion to the color pink, so this morning her orange hair is set against the Boobie-blue of her shirt, which matches her feet, happily wrapped in her Boobie feet, the Vibram Five Finger shoes that quite amazingly, she has worn for all her training.  Cindy is determined to walk the whole and entire 3-Day.  To stand here this morning, feet at the ready, about to embrace a walk of epic proportions, is heroic.  And she is not alone.  We are all together, all the Boobies and all the walkers and all the crew, here for the very same reason, here to see each other through, and there is profound comfort in that.
Just as quickly as the tears come, laughter and cheering sets the crowd to pitch and roll, our anticipation jettisoned suddenly into the air around us, thick with a fervent eagerness, and teeming with hope, optimism, love.  The music pulses through the crowd, and Jenne announces that it is time--to start walking!   We surge forward, being careful to move through the throngs together, not leave anyone behind, as we are herded like cattle through gates so our credentials can be scanned and each walker accounted for, and so we don’t topple each other over in our mad rush to get it done.  We see Mom and Gail one more time in the swell of crowds, and begin to march, heel to toe, and shoulder to shoulder, slowly, past people who have come out early to wish us well, hand out colorful beads and Energizer bunny ears, and fill us up with love and encouragement.

It is suddenly clear that we will lose each other--to the crowds and the traffic lights and our varying paces and strides.  With eleven of us, we split into three groups, making sure that we check in with each other along the way.  It is important that we each walk our own walk, but that within our little groups, we take care of each other.  We agree to meet up at lunch, start passing on the left, and skip the first grab ‘n go to put some distance between us and the crush of walkers.  And then--there is the smell.

It is morning rush hour on a summer Friday, and Framingham reeks--of pungent garbage that’s been left out too long in the hot sun, of thick smog being cast out by the endless stream of traffic to sit and stew in the humidity, and of cigarette smoke that wafts out of open windows to further strangle the air.  The incessant honking from cars only adds to the urban assault, and my headache comes on fast.  I have to keep reminding myself that it is NOT raining, that it could be so much worse, and yet, I am suddenly homesick for the quiet country roads and fresh air we’ve left behind.  I’d easily give up the convenience of being able to use porta potties every few miles, or flush toilets at the frequent Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks and fast food joints that line this strip, just to be able to smell the pines, take in the beauty of the surrounding hills and forests, and dash behind a tree every now and then to mark our territory.

Training Walks

Our training walks have taken us all over Franklin County and beyond.  Since January, when we began our training in earnest, we have gradually built up to the kind of distances--over hill and dale, along the Turners Falls bike path and the Noho-Amherst Rail Trail, down woods trails and town forests, atop roads paved and graveled and oiled --that we simply wouldn’t have been able to get our heads around a few months back.  It wasn’t too long ago when many of the first time walkers thought that walking 8 miles was a real feat.  On this day, we will walk our final 18 mile training walk together before the 3-Day sets sail in another two weeks. Since I’ve done it before, I know what is possible (anything!), and as their Captain, I encourage my teammates to believe in themselves.  This is a Yes-We-Can-inspired undertaking, and over the months, each and every Boobie has made significant changes in their lives, giving themselves permission to spend time taking care of themselves, pushing through the inevitable issues that crop up and make you doubt your decision to take something like this on, and finally, growing strong and fit, and fully embracing the camaraderie of the team and the challenges of the experience.  

During the week, our training has included shorter walks, cross-training, and always, a day of “rest” on Monday.  Cross-training has included everything from biking, lifting weights, and yoga to gardening, vacuuming the house, and chasing around the kids.  Our families are now well-versed with our weekend routines, when the mileage peaks and we leave our houses at insanely early hours to meet up with a cache of Boobies and spend the day walking.  And talking.  And running into the woods to pee a whole lot. 

Since walking along the quiet, bucolic roadways of Franklin County is so totally different than walking the uneven, over-stimulating urban terrain of Boston, I’ve planned a route that will at least try to simulate a few of the other elements of the 3-Day which have been lacking on our previous walks: regular stops at our favorite pit stops, with flush toilets, food and drinks, and a few cheering sections and signs along the way to keep us going in the right direction. 
We’ve come together at Gill Center, and it’s our usual early hour, 6:30, to beat the heat, get it done, and get out at the absolute best time of day, when the day still radiates a certain hopefulness that seems to fade as the day progresses.  According to the skies, which brightened at sunrise only to darken soon after, it looks as if we might be walking to beat the rain as well. 

We do our usual pre-walk warm-up, pushing against the trees that line the common to stretch our calves and Achilles, reaching down to the dewy grass to release hamstrings, to the skies to lengthen, and work out the morning kinks.  We set off down Main Road, past meadows and hillsides dotted with cows, old hardwood and pine forests, a scattering of houses, still quiet with the hour of the day.  Traffic is non existent, and it is not unusual for us to walk many miles without seeing a single car go by.  There have been some odd encounters, though, and just last weekend, Marggie, Rachel and I had set out on a 12 mile walk together from Gill Center, when we ran into two young men, pants on the ground, walking the other way.  “Do you know how far New Hampshire is from here?  Our car broke down in Turners, gotta go back and get a ride!”  They look like they’ve been up all night.  We send them north, tell them if we can walk all those miles, then so can they, and later, when we are looping back at mile ten, they fly by in a car, heading to Turners, waving like mad men. 

A half hour in, and Gretel has to pee.  If there is one thing that the Boobies are good at, it is working together, to stay well hydrated, take in enough electrolytes, and pee a lot, all things that would make our 3-Day coaches proud.  Carlos has emailed us all that he does not pee on his 18 mile training walks.  How is this possible?  We are not shy, and are grateful, always, for a thick of trees and brush along the road.  We’ve put Rachel in charge of finding all the good spots. She is particularly adept at it, infinitely better at it than keeping her feet free of blisters, especially in the rain. Dr. Marggie has taken it upon herself to research all there is about those pesky little buggers, and to equip herself with all the necessary medical accouterments.  And from cases of shot blocks and Gu and all the other cool things that I’ve procured from Bob at Bicycles Unlimited, it all adds up to a whole lot of stuff for us to carry on these long training walks. 

Today, though, we will enjoyTypically, on these long training walks, we’ve got to feed ourselves, find pee stops along the way, tend to our own discomforts, provide our own cheering sections, and carry enough water to see us through for 18 miles.  Today, we’ll 

At mile four, we stop at the Second Street Bakery in Turners, Pit stop #1. We sip coffee, iced tea, and nosh on a phalanx of pastries--not exactly sports drinks and salted peanuts, but infinitely more enjoyable--and cross back over the old bridge into Riverside, where we spy a group of white swans along the Connecticut. A minute later, Mike, one of the Southern Boobies who often calls us during our long Saturday walks, sends me a text with a photo attached…of white swans.  There have been quite a few freaky little coincidences, as if the Southern Boobies were somehow leading walks parallel to the ones the Northern Boobies were taking, living in two parallel universes, our portal, the 3-Day. 

Mile five. Pit stop #2. We arrive at the Wagon Wheel, site of many past and future BFB feeding frenzies, and quench our thirst on their stellar homemade lemonade, drinks on the house courtesy of Carolann Zaccaro, BFB supporter and WW proprietor.  We are grateful, and plan on returning the next day to fill our bellies properly after another long training walk.  We follow signs heading east on Route 2, and walk side by side in pairs in the wide shoulder before turning onto Pisgah Mountain Road. 

Mile Nine.  Pit stop #3.  After walking down and up the gravely hills and potato fields of Pisgah, we’ve just arrived at Barb’s wonderful house, and her golden Basil rushes out to greet us.  It has started to rain.  We quickly escape into the house, and we feast on curried chicken salad, avocadoes and hearty bread while watching the rain come down from the comfort of her screened-in porch.  Stretched before us lies the river below Barb‘s colorful gardens made slightly blurry by the sudden downpour, and we are in no rush to head back out.  Before we leave, we recoat our feet with unpetroleum jelly, a BFB staple, and put on fresh dry socks.  We unroll rain coats and umbrellas.  Hats.  Ready, set, go.

Mile Eleven.  Pit stop #4.  Dominick, my 11-year old son, has made us frozen grapes, and even though it is raining, we welcome the refreshing bites of juicy succor and the brief respite from the rain as we take cover on the deck.  We head down the hill to Upinngil,  going north on Main Road, until we turn onto the Mount Hermon campus, and loop up and around to Meg’s house, Pit stop #5, where her husband, Glenn, brings out icy cold watermelon.  We really are being spoiled today.  I take off my sneaks and jump on the trampoline until my head starts to bobble and spin.  Meg’s clothesline is filled with blue bandannas.  Huh.

We’ve made our way into Northfield, walked the gorgeous new sidewalks through town, and taken a right up Pine St. to the home of Louise and Dick Schwingel, two long time NMH faculty members who have agreed to be pit stop #6 at mile seventeen.  We are eager to dip our feet in their pool, but really, have no idea what they have in store for us: bowls of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, three kinds of sorbet, lemonade, and iced tea.  We are a-flush with gratitude.  Do we really have to put our socks and sneakers back on?

We end at Marggie’s, the final mile a sore, blistering finale.  We’ve been walking for hours.  The day is, essentially, done.  Marggie’s quartet of wonderful dogs come out to greet us, and wonder why this time they had not been invited.  We sleep well that night.  And in the morning, we rise and do it again.

As we make our way through Wellesley, the air feels fresher, the traffic sounds and smells abate, and the crowds thin.  It feels good to air out the legs a bit, enjoy the sights a little more, relax into the festive atmosphere.  After all, with all the costumes and beads and celebration, the 3-Day is like a little Mardi gras, full of revelry, mischief-making and fun.  From the kooky crew who dress up for each themed pit stop, the decorated Sag Vans and cars that fly by, music blasting, horn honking, bras flapping in the wind, to the crazier fans who come out each and every day in sparkling pink outfits, dress up their dogs in angel wings, and do whatever it takes to make us feel like we can do anything, anything! for three days and beyond, the 3-Day is full of revelry, mischief-making and fun.  And then there are the walkers, for whom outrageous frippery and Boobie puns seem to be the rule.  A group of Tigers for Ta-Ta’s walk ahead of us and I can’t help but want to grab hold of one of the striped tails that they have attached to their fanny packs and pull.  Later, I walk behind a man who had attached a black negligee-clad paper-mached torso to his back, sporting a sign that said, Save the Ta-Ta’s.  I see another guy in a plaid, short dress, and a trio of guys along the route squeezed into big pink bras and lipstick.  Seems a great excuse to raid your girlfriend’s closet and dress up like a girl for a few days.

The route quite cosmically goes right past my plastic surgeon‘s, Dr. Pitts’, office, site of countless expander fill-ups and my first ever tattoo, and I think of running in and saying hello and having my “after” picture taken, lizard and all, but press on, past Newton-Wellesley Hospital, where I had the bulk of my surgeries and procedures done two years ago, where Dr. Specht took care of the cancer and Dr. Pitts installed my new left girl, and my new lease on life. 

At lunch, we enjoy a longer break than we’ve taken at the pit stops along the way.  More than a mere re-fueling station like the other Pit Stops, the Lunch Stop offers walkers the chance to stretch out more sufficiently, eat a more substantial meal, and catch up with their team.  But there is a trick to it: stop too long and you’ll stiffen up, and have a much harder time getting back on your feet.  We still have a long way to go, and while the skies continue to darken, that old Grace Jones’ song Walking in the Rain begins to ear worm its way into my head.  Every now and then, we walk behind people who are blasting tunes out of portable speaker sleeves for their iPods, and the effect is instantaneous: a spring in my step, a few dance moves, a little hum to get going, beat this dang rain.  And while there is no talking or texting or listening to music through ear buds while walking allowed on the 3-Day--all grounds for expulsion from the Walk--people have figured out how to still enjoy their tunes along the way. 

Rachel and Carlos, who have been playfully competing against each other all day to see who can get it done first on Day One, seem especially motivated to get back to camp before the rain hits. Carlos, who never seems to stop to stretch or pee, has been ahead of us most of the day, with Rachel catching up and creeping up on him every now and then to give him the big waaaa-hahaha! as she speeds by.  Right before we get to camp, with just a hundred yards to go, Rachel sees Carlos up ahead, and flies past him, sending him to sprint to the finish in a futile effort--futile, because he is laughing so hard--to beat her.  The crew, who has assembled to cheer us in, love it.  And so do Rachel and Carlos.  I know that they have both been carrying heavy emotional loads today, for Rachel, thinking about her Gram, and for Carlos, his mentor, who died of cancer earlier this year. Quite wonderfully, the day has been like a rebirthing, bringing them back, as Carlos put it, into the joy of life. 

It’s always great to take in Base Camp for the first time.  Crew has been hard at work for two days to set up shower trucks and wash stations, rows and rows of porta potties, the dining tent, the 3-Day swag store, camp post office, and the row of sponsor-tents, each offering something of comfort for the walkers: new this year, the addition of cell phone charging stations in the Energizer tent.  There’s already a line for free chair massages.  In between the shower trucks and the dining tent is the medical tent, which on this afternoon at the end of the first day is still relatively quiet.  It won’t always be so. We are among some of the first to get in, and as we find our designated row by the trucks for gear retrieval, the piles are still huge, indicating all the walkers who have yet to arrive at Camp.  We find Gail; not only has she been able to set up all our tents, but she’s pulled aside most of our luggage too, using our laminated BFB luggage tags to quickly id Boobie bags.  We lug our stuff over to our row of tents that sit perched atop turf fields in a residential section of Waltham.  Boobie camp includes five pink, two-person tents, three on one side, and two on the other, back to back.  Later, we’ll hoist the banner and set up the chairs that some of us have brought.  For now, we are eager to get tarps up and over the tents, secure them with clothespins, and line the tent floor with another.  Barb has arrived, and it starts spitting rain just as we get our air mattresses blown up and stuffed into the tents, along with our duffels and fanny packs.  We pull on our ponchos and head out to call in the rest of the flock at the finish.

I am relieved to find my mother, who seems engulfed by her big poncho and the imminent rain, looking happy, bringing walkers in to camp.  I can tell she is exhausted, though, and  urge her to get a good night’s sleep tonight.  By the time the rest of the Boobies arrive and start to set up, the rain begins to come down rather mercilessly.  But everyone looks ecstatic to have finished Day One.  Looking more flummoxed than ecstatic, Team Courage--a quartet of big, tall, well-built young guys wearing grey t-shirts and black shorts--straggles in, wiping sweat off their brows, legs a little stiff, feet wincing.  I remember seeing them at the Opening Ceremonies: standing tall and proud, arms crossed and faces full of quiet resolve, their grey and black colors standing out in the sea of bright pink.  Meg has gotten to know them a bit on the route.  Two of the guys had lost their mothers to breast cancer, and had been joined by two friends who had come from afar to walk with them.  Despite the fact that they were all athletes, well-conditioned, and fit, none of them had trained. What’s a little walking?! They clearly struggled this first day, and have arrived with their tails between their legs, with a new found respect for the rigors of endurance walking.  I wonder how they‘re going to fit in the tents.

A poetic juxtaposition of life at its best, 3-Day walkers come in all shapes and sizes, ages and fitness levels.  One team wore t-shirts that emblazoned a bit of self-deprecating humor: “Yes, we did all the training, and our butts are STILL this big.“  Thanks to our unique genetic make-up as bi-peds and our evolutionary history as long-distance running champs across the scorching savanna, we are each and every one of us potential endurance phenoms. Walking is a perfect fit for us, and despite the fact that my foot doctor has told me that my equinal feet, my anteverted hips, my off-kilter neck, often askew thanks to some old rugby injuries, were not, or no longer, made for running, I know to my core that my whole being—toughened feet, long, strong legs, love of the outdoors, & tendency towards alternating bouts of solitude with the need to surround myself with people—was made for walking.

It’s nightfall.  The rain has let up some, after pounding us all evening, and making our all Camp miles--those numerous trips from tent to shower trucks to dinner and potties and back again--fairly miserable.  And yet, despite the rain, the first day is done, bringing much relief and comfort in being together. 

We all take turns writing in our team journal.  For many, the 3-Day, just one day in, has already been life-changing.  Mike writes that “from this point forward, I know I will refer to my life as before-and-after the 3-Day.”  

I am happily scrunched into my sleeping bag next to Dara, and her voice is soothing and the pitter-patter of the rain like a lullaby, and soon, I am asleep.  Amazingly, I awake just a couple of times at night, and fall back to sleep again easily.  Last year, after a sleepless first night at camp, I posted this update on Facebook around four in the morning:

can’t sleep, surrounded by snores, tent zippers, squeaky air mattresses, and the grind and chug of big heavy trucks…missing the crickets, coyotes, peepers…that lovely rural din.

Day Two, Saturday, July 24. 

5 am. Camp is already abuzz.  We have a lot of miles to cover today--nearly 22--and everyone it seems wants to get an early jump on the day.  Fog enshrouds camp, but soon, the sun arrives, a chary dim light to slowly burn off the low clouds and set the pink tent city ablaze with color.  The day will be hot. 

We grab a quick breakfast, brush our teeth, and double check our gear.  Cindy has arrived from her hotel, looking fresh and well-rested, and after a few trips for blister care at the self-care tent, the team is ready to go.  Our 6:30 start this second morning feels much different than yesterday, and we are able to go at our own pace right away, past the crew on the outskirts of camp, the wonderful Pink Angels, who come every day in their tutus and pink wings and hand out hugs and high fives, and the Men with Heart, a team of about twenty guys who devote themselves not just to raising unbelievable amounts of money for Komen, but to supporting the women during the walk as well. 

On this day, I am eager to get to Lexington Center, where I know my family will be waiting for me.  But first, there is the hill to be reckoned with in Belmont, a long stretch of uphill climbing that for us Northern Boobies, who have trained on hills much tougher than this, will be a breeze, but for Mike and Carlos, who are used to the Florida flats, the hill looms ahead of them like a monkey on their back.  But they get it done.  Carlos’ knee is bothering him, and Dara offers one of her knee straps for extra support.  He takes to the shoulder on the road, leaving behind the unforgiving, uneven terrain of the broken city sidewalks for smoother ground. 

By midday the sun is ravenous.  The heat index has climbed into the “extreme caution” zone, and everywhere, along the route, people are out to help us along and keep us cool.  In town, fire fighters have set up hoses in front of stately old brick fire houses, and there are certain groups of female walkers who seem to delight in stopping at every fire house to have their pictures taken with the firemen, the same women, no doubt, who spent the first day kissing all the police men who stopped traffic and let through the endless strings of walkers while the people sat in their air-conditioned cars.  Sprinklers rain down on us as we walk the suburban sidewalks, and supporters of all ages have come out to offer popsicles, watermelon, frozen grapes and peppermint patties.  At the cheering sections, I make a beeline for the friendly dogs and the good folks with spray bottles at the ready, and raise arms out to be misted, before making my way through the line of people, some holding signs, some saying “thank you for walking,” some crying.  It is hard, sometimes, to hold back the emotion.  And there are those who appear every now and then to urge us on: the kids with their hand drawn signs, bowls of candy and homemade cookies; the pet duck in the kiddie pool; the lone husband sitting with his newspaper at nearly every turn, awaiting his wife; and the grandmother driving her grandbaby around, waiting every few hours along the route for his mother, a walker, to come by and breast feed him.

At the pit stops, which come every 3 or 4 miles, we fill and refill our bottles with water, grab salty snacks, bananas, and sliced oranges, and use those porta potties.  We fill our bandannas with ice and wrap them around our necks to drip deliciously cold water down our backs.  At lunch, everyone is crammed under the one  tree on the site--a park at a school with a woeful lack of shade--eating, stretching, taking care of blisters.  The porta potties have heated up so much that one can’t help but worry about passing out in one and never being found.  The three groups of Boobies have settled into a sort of relay system, with each group catching up and communicating with the next as to how everyone is doing so that we can at the very least be assured that all is ok. 

Finally, at about the seventeen mile mark, we wind into Lexington Center, where an assortment of family members wait.  It’s great to see everyone, and as Dara and I walk with Dominick and my brother Eli to the next cheering section, I am acutely aware of how lucky I am.  At Parker Field, we pose with the Lexington Minutemen for pictures and buy some sassy buttons to add to my fanny pack: Cancer Sucks! and Hey Cancer!  You picked the wrong bitch!    A favorite moment: A tall young woman, college age, suddenly takes a detour from the line of walkers and runs onto the basketball court, where a group of guys are playing some pick up ball.  She asks for the ball, and they give it to her, standing, stunned, as she sinks three pointer after three pointer.  She returns the ball, says thanks, and rejoins the Walk. A few minutes later, they are still standing there, watching her go, unable to really get their heads around what has just happened.

It’s been great tonic to spend time with my family, and knowing I will see them tomorrow, it feels like I can easily get through the last five miles of the day, which can often feel like another twenty.  Down tree lined sidewalks, through the shade and quiet of some lovely little neighborhoods in Arlington and Belmont, where mothers with small children and elderly people wave from behind screen doors and windows, we reach Waltham. Mike has been walking with the Men with Heart, a large group of terrific guys who walk with their knapsacks stuffed with personal items and other things the women might need on the way.  At the twenty mile mark, they start singing the theme song from Gilligan’s Island and other old TV shows.  Another Komen mile, and we see the bright yellow shirts of the Youth Corps up ahead, handing out homemade chocolate chip cookies, stickers, and smiles. 

It is nearly four in the afternoon when our first group arrives at Camp.  We’ve been walking for nearly nine hours straight.  The bottoms of my feet feel tingly and slap-happy.  I head for ice, shower, and then stand vigil at the finish with Rachel and my Mom, who has lost her voice entirely. Dara, Mike, Carlos, knee still ailing, and Barb are all in, and head off to the showers.

The heat has taken its toll on the walkers.  The Men with Courage come in, leaning forward as if about ready to fall, grey shirts soaked in sweat.  A woman plops down on the grass next to Rachel and minutes later, is taken away by medical crew for heat stroke.  The medical tent is already brimming, the line starting to grow, and the docs and nurses--all of whom donate their time and expertise throughout the weekend--are busy, using triage to treat the most extreme cases first.  There are all kinds of issues--heat stroke, dehydration, blisters, sprains, road rage rashes, chafing, swollen feet and ankles, sore hips and knees, aggravated old injuries and fresh, annoying new ones--and soon, camp looks like a war zone, with people limping, hobbling about on crutches, wrapped up and iced, medical staff running about. 

We first spy Marggie and Gretel dancing their way to the finish line, caught up in the infectious party-atmosphere that greets walkers back at Camp.  Soon after, Cindy, Jeannie and Meg appear, and while they are all smiles, I know that the day‘s 21+ miles has been rough-going.  I am relieved that everyone has made it to the end of Day Two.  Despite some pretty nasty blisters, a smattering of road rage, sore hips, and several troublesome knees, the Boobies pressed on and got it done.  Jeanne’s back gave her trouble earlier in the day, and she wisely hitched a ride on the an uproarious Sag Van once or twice, receiving a legacy pin for her sage decision.  Cindy has done remarkably well, but she is tired, feeling grateful for all the support she’s received along the way, from Meg, especially, who danced to “Walk Like an Egyptian” with her when they could hardly move, and from the man in Dunkin Donuts who announced he was buying donuts for her and Jeanne and three other walkers standing in line.  It truly is the little random acts of kindness that make the Pink what it is--and the Walk a much better place to be. 

After dinner, Cindy leaves for her hotel, where we are hoping she will at least get some good sleep in between all the endless walking.  Under the big tent, the Youth Corps take the stage and share their stories, and once again, the tears come.  These are kids who have lost their mothers to breast cancer, watched aunts and grandmothers battle the disease, and have dedicated themselves to helping find a cure.  Quite wonderfully, Jenne announces that the highly successful Youth Corps program, once unique to the Boston 3-Day, will soon be gracing the other fourteen 3-Day cities, a fantastic opportunity for kids who are too young to walk (you must be 16) to participate and experience all the opportunities--for friendship and catharsis--that being a part of the Pink offers. 

Late that night, or in the wee hours of the next morning, I wake up and head out of the tent city to find a porta pottie.  There is an eerie glow from the distant lights, and I feel like I am at sea, trying to find my way to the lighthouse in the dark.  All around me, there are other walkers walking like zombies to the porta potties and back again.  Eyes half shut, legs stiff.  And no one is looking at or acknowledging each other.  It is a strange zombie land, an endless elevator ride right out of my dreams.

Day Three, Sunday, July 25.

I can’t seem to rouse Mike and Carlos, both still quite sunken into their Advil PM-induced slumber.  It is 5 am, and it’s time to wake the Boobies. We have more to do this morning than yesterday: take down the tents, pack up and get our duffels on the gear trucks, eat breakfast and all the rest.  I am amazed that anyone could sleep through all the hushed commotion of camp: zipper sounds, the slap of flip flops, the flinging and scattering of those pesky little black turf pellets with each step, the whispered voices.  Finally, after a particularly loud sneeze, everyone is up, climbing out of their tents and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, and soon, Boobie camp is being broken down amidst the sun rising in a rapturous wash of colors.  It will be another hot day.

Rachel has hit the med tent early, and with her feet all taped up, she is ready to get it done.  She gets an early start with Mike, Dara, and Carlos, while I hang back to start this final day with the rest of the Boobies. Cindy has had to get medical clearance to walk this last day, and given all the people who have queued up in line at the medical tent this morning, we get a late start. By the time we reach Belmont, we’ve been further separated by the usual traffic lights.  In Cambridge, my friend Angie, who walked with me last year, joins us for a stretch before heading back to find Jeanne.  I catch up to Mike and Dara at Harvard Square, and we walk down shaded cobblestone sidewalks into Central Square, where the T beckons in a funny, Rosie Ruiz-sort of way.  Further along, the architecture around MIT is stunning.  We stop to snap pictures like silly tourists, catch some curious glances, and stretch on a few front stoops.  There is much to take in, this parade of city life and landscape, and I am thrilled to be walking with such great friends.  There are far fewer walkers on the course, and it is quite easy to confuse tourist for walker and go the wrong way.  Without a steady stream of walkers in pink to follow, we start paying a little more attention to the black 3-Day arrow signs.  Ahead of us, a pair of walkers start to follow a big arrow sign into a parking garage before we set them straight.

The wind whips up as we cross the Mass Ave Bridge into Boston, to take away some of the punch of the sun, and as soon as we reach the promenade down Commonwealth Avenue, with its statues and giant trees and park benches, we are happy to be in the shade once again.   Close to the Public Gardens, we are treated to our own personal cheering section by Gretel’s wonderful family, who has made a huge banner and signs for each and every one of us and who greets us all with smiles and hugs.  It is so wonderful to see familiar faces along the way, and soon after making our way into downtown Boston, I hear footsteps coming up fast behind me, and turn around to see my brother Eli, who has chased me--in flip flops--all the way from the Common, where he first caught sight of me.  Dominick and my brother Will are close behind. 

Here, in Boston’s Seaport, the sun hangs above us like a unrepentant, noxious entity, and I am happy for the comfort of Dominick’s hand in mine and the sound of his voice to keep me walking in this heat.  At lunch, just three miles before the Big Finish at UMASS, we catch up with Rachel and Dara, meet up with my father, and chase down the ice cream truck.   Lunch is eaten, too, though by this time, I am subsisting on sheer adrenaline, a little bit of Gu, and a whole lot of water.  Before we leave for the final stretch, Barb arrives, looking fresh and strong.  She updates us on the rest of the team, whom she has seen at an earlier pit stop: Jeannie was doing okay, but her back was bothering her a lot.  Meg was walking with Cindy and Jeanne, and Marggie and Gretel were a little bit ahead of them, soon to arrive.  And Carlos?  No one had seen him, but we knew that his knee was hurting a lot.  Had he taken the van?  One of the air-conditioned buses that was taking walkers by the hundreds from pit stop to pit stop?  Not Carlos.  We must have passed him when he was--incredibly--in a porta pottie. 

The final stretch--3 or 4 miles along the beaches that line Quincy Bay--feels a bit surreal.  We are all exhausted by this time, not just from all the walking, but from lack of sleep, the emotional rollercoaster ride we’ve been on, and months of preparation and build-up, and I‘m a bit bleary eyed, taking in the volleyball game on the beach, the community pool, the boardwalk beneath my feet.  It seems like a totally different world.  I am tempted to shed socks and sneakers and jump into the ocean, but it seems risky--instead of totally reinvigorating me, it could completely derail me, and reduce me to a sniveling puddle of tears. This is when the mental toughness has to kick in: stay sharp or melt right there on the sidewalk.  We walk on.  At just one mile to go before Holding, I feel a little sad that it is almost over, that I’ll have to leave behind the Pink to navigate life on my own again, and say good bye to these dear old friends who have come from so far away to walk this 3-Day with me. 

With Dara and Mike just behind us, Rachel and I set our sights beyond the beach and boardwalk, to the sidewalks lined with hundreds of people, cheering us on.  I start to fall apart all over again when I see my family, and then really crumble when I see my good friend Kim and her daughter Katie, and words, truly, fall short at describing my joy and gratitude at seeing them all.  Rachel‘s mother Bonnie sweeps her up in a hug at the finish, and together, Rachel and I walk into the air conditioned gym to retrieve our 3-Day shirts: white for walkers, and pink for survivors.   Soon Mike and Dara come in, then Barb, and quite amazingly, Carlos, the Energizer bunny, rounding the bend into the hoopla of the finish, grinning, limping slightly, stopping only now, for hugs and besos.  

There are many things we’ve learned along the way: that a Komen Mile is not really a mile; it is usually a bit longer.  That the Woburn cops are the best looking ones along the route.  That the resiliency and tenacity of the human spirit is its real triumph.  And that there’s a whole lot of Boobie magic that has seen us through on this 3-Day.   Magic that helped us push through the pain and get it done.  Magic that surrounded us on every corner, to cheer us on and make our hearts sing.  Magic that mended those broken little bits of spirit and body and soul, long-forgotten and wedged in deep.  And magic that brought out our better selves, helping us work together to bring everyone home. 

My trusty little iPhone, which has been overworked this weekend, as camera, video camera, pedometer, boom box, weather forecaster, note taker, Pony Express rider, and cell phone, alerts me that Gretel has just posted on Facebook that she and Marggie are just a few miles out.  After a while, we begin to think that they decided to wait for Jeanne, Cindy, and Meg, and walk the final three miles together.  More and more buses, having just dropped off injured walkers at the lunch pit stop so they could walk the final three miles to the finish, are rounding the corner.  We scan the crowds for the Boobies, cheer all the walkers in:  A guy in a kilt.  The Tigers. George, with the walking stick, who has become a wonderful fixture on this Walk, after losing his wife, sister-in-law and daughter to breast cancer in recent years. And finally, two of the Men with Courage, looking a little stunned that they‘ve actually finished, their dedication to their moms, and to each other, and maybe a little pride, pushing them through to the end.   Crew begins to stream in from all quarters, and we are joined by Gail and Damon, and the Boobies’ cheering section grows.   

Our anticipation--nearly unbearable--turns to elation as we spy the remaining five Boobies under the banner, coming into view.  Jeanne and Cindy are holding hands, sobbing, their faces etched with the hard fought battle now behind them, and Meg, Marggie and Gretel just a few steps behind them. Our hearts, filled with pride and relief, leap and propel us over the side rail to welcome them home.  We round on them with hugs and hoots and hollers and we all join hands and walk the final steps of this 3-Day together, banner in tow, through the screaming thousands.  It feels fantastic to be together again, to know that everyone is okay.  And I am grateful for so many things, but especially for that crazy, powerful kind of Boobie magic that brought us together as a team in the first place, and encircled and empowered us all along these sixty miles to bring each one of us home safely. 

I am aware of how fleeting such magic can be.  But I am determined to let that magic trickle down and saturate my every fiber so I can take it with me wherever I go in this world.  Something to forever tap into.  Steel ourselves with.  Roll in.  Uncork whenever we need a boost.  Rub the bottle and make a wish.

The crowd grows ecstatic as the last walkers come into camp.  The organizers start to herd everyone into three groups, and the amazing crew, who has put all this together, fed us, and tended to our every need, initiates the long march to the site of the Closing Ceremonies, just over the hill on the UMASS campus. After them, the walkers line up in matching white shirts, to follow the crew who have circled around them in front of the stage.  And finally, the survivors, in pink, walk with arms linked and raised into the forum.  All around are thousands who have come to support us--family and friends and complete strangers, who feel compelled to be a part of the Pink, to thank us for walking, to cry, openly, for those they’ve lost.  And as I walk in with Cindy and Jeanne, all around us people are holding up shoes and sneakers to salute the survivors.  The Shoe Salute is breathtaking, humbling, deafening in its quiet eloquence.  I can hear Jenne’s voice, but it seems far away.  It feels inspiring to be a part of this group of survivors, which includes women of all ages, and one man, and if it were not for the pink shirts, I don’t think that one could not tell who was a survivor and who was not.  In front of me is a woman who had been diagnosed when she was just 26, just two months after she found out she was pregnant with her first child.  An older woman wears a t-shirt emblazoned with her own proclamation: 25 years cancer-free!  Several wear bandannas and scarves on their heads. And there are a whole lot of sassy buttons pinned to everyone’s shirts.  It feels good to tell Cancer to f*#@ off every now and then. 

These are the faces of breast cancer, the reasons why we walk, and why I am here today--feeling invincible, strong, happy--thanks to all the countless walkers who came before me.  We stand acutely aware of who might be missing from this group of survivors, and feel the collective sadness and sense of loss of those in attendance; all those people out there, here for someone, someone they’ve lost or are worried about losing.  But there is good news, always: Jenne announces that 1600 Boston 3-Day walkers have raised over $4.5 million for Komen, and it truly feels incredible to be a part of that.  The crowd goes wild.  I look at my team--instantly spottable under the Boobie banner--and am beside myself with pride. Together, the Blue Footed Boobies raised over $48,000 for the Cure.  We did good.  But we know all too well that there are still lives to be saved, and that our work is not done.

The final flag is raised--A World Without Breast Cancer--and it speaks of the hope and promise of the 3-Day.  I’ll keep walking until they find a cure.  I’ll keep walking for Cindy.  For myself.  For everyone.  I’ll keep walking because I can.  There is a simmering, unrelenting joyfulness, too, rising up and smoothing out the spaces between the cracks and binding us all together…that crazy, powerful Boobie magic, the magic of the Pink.  The Boobies are suddenly surrounded by our families, and I can see just how proud everyone is.  I hold my youngest son for a long time; the emotion of the Closing Ceremonies has been overwhelming for him, too.  The 3-Day, in its celebration of life and love, tenacity and courage, is life-changing.  It has a way of knocking you off your feet, infusing every fiber of your being with the very best that you and humanity has to offer, and sending you back to radiate and glow and share the magic with others. 

It’d be lovely to feel that way all the time, to hang on to the power of the walk, suffuse our days with all that good stuff.

Driving home in my little car, I realize that my fanny pack, with all its stickers and pins, now looks like the back of my Toyota.  And the closer I get to the Valley, the more relaxed I feel. There’s an expansiveness inside that echoes the gradually opening up of the landscape outside. I am at once struck by how beautiful and peaceful it is, and by how boxed in I suddenly feel. Even with the windows down, I feel uncomfortably isolated from the rush of the river, the rise and fall of the hills, the warmth of the people who make this place their home. It’d be nice to shed the car on a regular basis, get out into the land, and walk, a daily renewal of spirit. There is a certain charm about walking about the countryside, captured by writers and poets for many generations; and yet, in this day, since we spend so much time in our cars and in front of computer and TV screens, it promises much more than just reconnection with the natural landscape. Walking allows to take in and experience life at a slower pace, take in the changing seasons, clear out the cobwebs from our heads, deepen connections with neighbors and townspeople, and reacquaint ourselves with our made-for-walking feet. It is the pulse of life.

A week has passed since the Walk, and we’re already missing each other, the Pink and all its good Juju, the cheering sections with those frozen grapes and peppermint patties always at the ready, all that positive reinforcement.  We begin to wonder if the Pink Angels might be for hire, to follow us around during our busy lives, to give us high fives while hanging out the wash, send a few “Way to go, Ladies!“ our way while we made dinner, urge us on as we tried to juggle the usual brouhaha of our lives, be there with a hug at the end of a really long day.  I meet Marggie for a trip to the Farmer’s Market, and a lovely hike with our dogs.  It is amazing how much I have missed her.
A few days later, nine of us reunite to meet with a woman at NMH who will be writing an article about our experience.  Our fondness for each other instantly fills the room, and as we answer questions about the 3-day, and begin to process what the experience has meant to all of us, all the emotions of the 3-Day are uncorked. Joy.  Sorrow.  Despair.  Pride.  Hope.  Love.  For Cindy, the experience has been particularly moving.  I am blown away by how positively and powerfully transformative the 3-Day has been on everyone’s lives, and by the common threads that we all seem to touch on: how the training was the very best motivation to reclaim our physical selves, the commitment of time and energy, blood, sweat and tears a wonderful way to give back and honor those we’ve lost while honoring ourselves, and the overall experience an incredible way to experience humanity at its best.  We all agreed that our walking excursions together blossomed into critical outlets for love and support in many areas of our lives, the Blue Footed Boobies quickly becoming the best support group any of us had ever been a part of.   The benefits have been profound, and today, together again, the gifts are numerous and unexpected.  We talk, we cry, we laugh for two hours.  No walking on this day.  Just being in the Pink.  Reveling in the magic.

The 3-Day has been the single most powerfully positive force in my own recovery and in my day-to-day—the benefits of all that exercise and fresh air, connectivity and community, laughter and love have been tremendous, and the absolute best medicine of all.  And it has been a great practice to extend the lessons of the 3-Day into our own everyday lives.  I will walk again next year, and hope to expand the flock.  The Blue Footed Boobies got it done in 2010.  We had a lot of help, and we are infinitely grateful for all the support we received along the way.  If you are interested in joining the Blue Footed Boobies, or learning more about how you, too, can experience the magic of the Pink, please be in touch.  And remember: Anything is possible.