Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Marathon Cancer Walk

I wrote the following on my mother's birthday, May 7, 2007, after participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.  I walked to support Mom, who was at the time dealing with breast cancer.  Enjoy!

On Saturday and Sunday, May 5 & 6, 2007, I participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. It consisted of a 26.2 mile (or optional 13.1 mile) walk on Saturday, and a 13.1 mile walk on Sunday, for a total of 39.3 miles. I registered to walk as a tribute to my Mom, Gwen Freed, who is battling breast cancer now. She was diagnosed in November, and, after several operations, elected to have a mastectomy with breast reconstruction. She is currently halfway through her chemotherapy treatments, though she is dealing with an infection in the reconstructed breast, which will require more surgery at some point. She is doing well, though, thanks to everyone's prayers, thoughts, and support.

I had to raise $1800 to participate in the Walk, and, because I got such a late start raising money, it was a daunting task. But so many of you came through with donations, and you helped me raise more than $2700, with more checks still coming! Thank you all so much! You are all so generous! More than 3100 people participated in the Walk, raising a total of $7.4 million! Check-in for the Walk began on Friday afternoon at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. I arrived shortly after the event registration began and found that I was surrounded by many, many women. My guess is that approximately 90% of the participants were women.

Friday night, Melody and I slept at Mom & Dad's house, and Dad woke up with me at 4:00 a.m. to drive me to the Kennedy Center for the opening ceremony. (Thanks, Dad! Sorry about the traffic on the Whitehurst Freeway!) I began stretching and warming up as the sun started to come up, and the place got crowded in a hurry. After a short ceremony, the Walk began at around 7:30 a.m., and I found myself immediately stuck in a large pack. It was very slow going for the first two miles, then folks began to spread out a bit. We headed across the George Washington Bridge into Virginia, then over the Key bridge into Georgetown. There were "rest stops" every couple of miles, with port-a-johns and water and Gatorade available, as well as medical personnel and volunteers to cheer everyone on.  Walkers seemed to be going at a different pace, so you were always walking with different people.

The route took us up through Georgetown and Northwest DC. I averaged about 4 miles an hour. Lunch was at Sibley Hospital (appropriately near the emergency room), and I took my first extended break of the morning. We had covered 10 miles and I was feeling pretty good. I didn't do any training during the weeks leading up to the Walk (how can you with a 3 year old?), but I figured I could easily do 26 miles. After about 30 minutes and scarfing down a turkey sandwich and an apple, I hit the road again.

The route took us through American University, then up Nebraska Avenue. At the halfway point, 13.1 miles, where many were hopping on a bus to go to the finish line, I was still feeling pretty good. I decided to keep going. Besides, there were so many folks continuing on, that I didn't want to quit yet. Besides, I was in better shape than at least a few of them...or at least I thought I was....

I reached mile 14.5 and I started to feel sick. I was on Connecticut Avenue just south of Chevy Chase, and I knew there was a rest stop at 14.8. I walked faster, and I felt worse. I wasn't dehydrated, but I felt very sick. I made it to the rest stop and sat down to rest. After a 20 minute break, with a stop in a port-a-john, I was feeling somewhat better, so I continued on. From this point on, I made sure to stop at every rest stop and drink plenty of Gatorade.

I knew the first day of walking would end at Sligo Middle School on Dennis Ave. in Silver Spring, and I kept trying to figure out when the route would turn east again, but it kept going west. I knew, if we kept walking this far to the west, I would have to walk even further to the east. I was somewhere near Bethesda and getting tired. My legs were beginning to feel the strain of so much walking. I found myself stopping often to stretch. By the time I reached mile 17, I wasn't sure if I would make it.

I was walking along Old Georgetown road when I finally passed under the Beltway. That moment was a milestone, because it meant to me that I was beginning the home stretch. Also, there are many spectators along the route. They act as cheerleaders, and they can motivate you to keep moving. I said a prayer and I began to feel a second wind coming on. The route began going eastwardly again, and I felt encouraged that I was beginning the home stretch.

It didn't last long. I reached the next rest stop and I found myself surrounded by zombies and the walking wounded. The makeshift medical tent was really crowded, and I saw a young lady leaning over a bucket, heaving every few seconds. Another girl was led to a waiting ambulance. Her face was pale, and she looked like how I was feeling, which wasn't good. I called Mom & Dad to let them know I was headed for the last 5 miles. They were trying to wake up a grumpy and half-asleep Melody, and then they were going to head to Sligo Middle School to wait for me.

A couple of miles later, I stopped at another rest stop, this one near I-270 on Grovesnor Lane. I called Lynda and Jim Shirlen. They encouraged me to keep going.

I made it to Plyers Mill Road when my body began to ask me, then tell me, to stop. I could hear my legs yelling at my feet to stop moving. I started thinking about when Teresa was in labor with Melody, and the breathing exercises she used. I tried using them. In-out-in-out, step, step, in-out-in-out, step, step.... Folks lined the route and yelled encouragement to keep me going. I was being passed by women twice my age. They kept yelling, "Only a mile more to go!" "You're almost there!" The route kept going up hill. I wondered aloud why the route-choosers put so many hills so close to the finish line! My legs could no longer take full steps, so I had to take shorter strides. Finally, I reached Georgia Avenue! I was almost there! I turned onto Dennis Avenue! Only a few more blocks!!!  Another hill!!! Oh, the pain, the agony!!! And, finally, I reached the finish line!!! 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon. It was about 5:00. It had taken me about 9 and a half hours. But I finished! And all I could think about was how in the world am I going to be able to do another 13 miles on Sunday?!?

Mom, Dad, and Melody greeted me, and I collapsed in their car. Mom was so excited that I had finished. I was excited, too, but I was finished in more ways than one. We drove up to Wheaton and stopped at the Shirlen's house. Dad & Jim helped me out of the car and removed my shoes for me (I could not work my legs anymore). Melody gave me a big hug. Then Mom & Dad drove me home where I collapsed again and was dead to the world. Dad called me to check on me at 9:30 p.m., but I don't remember the call.

I awoke at 6 and tried to move. Everything hurt. I fell, literally, out of bed and tried to climb into the whirlpool bathtub. I know now why Teresa and I bought this house 7 years ago....for this tub. I soaked for about an hour, took some painkillers, then tried to get moving.

I fell into the car and drove back up to Sligo Middle School for Round 2.  I walked over and picked up the itinerary for the day, and then went right back to my car.  My legs just would not work. I couldn't do it. My body was finished. My lesson learned was that I need to know my limitations. I should have stopped at the halfway point on Saturday, and I probably would have been able to finish the walk on Sunday.  But I would not be walking today.

Instead, I took a beautiful drive along the route that the walkers would be taking, all the way down to the Kennedy Center. There was no way I could have walked another 13.1 miles. I returned to the Kennedy Center, later that afternoon (via Metro), for the closing ceremony. I felt bad that I had not been able to continue the walk, when there were so many more who did. But I felt like I had accomplished something extraordinary, for me, anyway. And I also knew that any pain I was feeling was just the tip of the iceberg for folks who are actually dealing with the effects of cancer and the rough treatment they have to go through, like Mom. I thanked God for helping me through this, and I asked Him to be with everyone suffering from this terrible disease.

Thank you all for your support, through your donations, through your thoughts, and through your prayers. You are awesome.

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