Sunday, October 10, 2010

"We're Gonna find a Cure for You!"

There's an old Jewish saying that humankind was created because God loves stories. That's one thing all humans have in common -- we all have a story. Stories with happy endings and stories with sad endings. Stories that make you laugh and stories that make you cry. Stories that make you avert your eyes and stories that make you clasp your hands to your heart because they touch your inner core.

At the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure in Birmingham yesterday, there was a sea of stories. All kinds. My story hardly counts. Just a biopsy, last October, of a suspicious lump that turned out to be benign. The bravery required to walk through that experience was just a drop in the bucket of bravery, by my estimation. I've seen real bravery in this arena. But it opened my eyes and made me aware, right at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, of breast cancer. Suddenly, it was my own breast under scrutiny. It made me part of a sisterhood, and sisterhood is powerful.

We came from all over the greater Birmingham area -- an army in pink and white converging on Linn Park from all directions. I walk for exercise and I think of myself as a fast walker, but I've never entered a race before and I hoped I was up for the challenge. The 3.1 mile race started at Boutwell Auditorium, went around the back of the Civic Center and across 11th Ave. North to 19th St., then all the way up 19th St. to 5th Ave. South, over to 20th, and then back to the finish line at the entrance to Linn Park.

It was a LONG walk with some long uphill inclines. All the walking I do had prepared me, but it's not an easy walk. Some of us ran - the swift ones -- some of them pushing babies in jogging rigs. Some strolled arm in arm, the pink signs on their backs bearing the names of the ones who bind them: Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Daughter, Cousin, Friend. It was a lovely mixed bag of sisters and their kin, all moving together toward the finish line at our own pace while bystanders cheered us on. "We're gonna find a cure for you -- Keep going!" chanted one group of young women on the sidelines. "Keep going!"

Legs tired? Keep going. Thirsty? Keep going. Feet hurt? Keep going. I felt the burn, and "keep going" was what I needed to hear, but I thought about the women who keep going through surgery and radiation and chemotherapy. I thought about their daughters and granddaughters -- the ones at high risk for breast cancer. We need to find a cure, and money is the first step. Birmingham's Race For the Cure was a huge success -- over 16,000 paid an entrance fee and many raised additional support. There's also the Breast Cancer Research Foundation here in Birmingham which raises seed money to acquire research grants for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and has leveraged $2.5 million in donations into over $18 million in grants.

We all crossed the finish line at different times -- my time was 52 minutes. My goal was to do it in under an hour, so I was pleased. Maybe I can do it faster next year. I stayed by the finish line for a long time, cheering the ones who finished after me. I talked to women and heard their stories. There's an element of loss in many of the stories, but there's an element of hope in all of them. "We're gonna find a cure for you -- Keep going!"

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