For the past five years I have been a part of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Which is to say, for the past five years I have done little more than paid my entry fee and ran 5 kilometers one Sunday morning each year. Each year I ran alone. I have mercifully never had breast cancer and I don't think I personally knew anyone who had it. I ran alone, most for the joy of running and a little for the cause. Last year changed all that.
Since I run with the lightening speed of a turtle, I usually queue up at the back of the pack. Somewhere between the slow runners and the sea of walkers. Last year was no different. I found my place among the throng of participants and next to a rather large group of walkers all decked out in hot pink and wearing a sense of purpose. Surrounded by this pepto-pink doused group was a women. The most incredible woman I have ever met.
Clad in pink fuzzy slipper, pink leopard print pajamas, a tiara baseball cap on a hairless head, and a feather boa that would have made Liberace proud was the shell of a woman. She sat in a silver and pink sequins wheelchair equipped with IV bag and rims. Her name was Sarah* and she had end stage triple negative breast cancer and was running her race for the last time.
As the race started and we began to slinky our way across the starting line, my desire to be a lone runner died. I walked along side her entourage talking to a woman who had been part of Sarah's care team at M. D. Anderson. I learned that Sarah had been a part of the Komen Race for a Cure for over 10 years. She had never missed a race. During chemotherapy, she walked. Weeks after a double mastectomy, she walked. During recovery, she walked. Now, with time racing against her and life showing it's last days, she would once again walk. This time in a tricked out wheelchair surrounded by friends, family, care takers and clergy; she would make one last stand against a disease that cares little about race, religion or ethnicity. She would show cancer that it may have claimed her body, but it would never kill her spirit.
I walked half that race with her and her team. Each step learning more about what it means to live, survive, fight and love. I don't know what happened to Sarah. I assume that cancer finally claimed her body. I doubt it ever got never her soul. This year, I ran with more purpose. I asked people to donate. I was no longer a lone runner. Despite a hip injury that sent shooting pain down my leg with every step, I refused to stop. I couldn't stop. Sarah never stopped. And if she could do it, so could I.
* In respect of her privacy, I have not used her real name; although, I somehow think she wouldn't have minded.
** "I walk for those who walked before me and those who walk beside me"