Two Strands

I’m inviting you into my closet. Don’t look too closely. And try not to fall over all the stuff. My stuff outnumbers and outweighs Darrin’s about four to one. He has never, in almost twenty years of marriage, complained about how many pairs of black shoes I own or about anything related to all my stuff in the closet. He is a good man. Truly. And not just because he doesn’t give me a hard time about my stuff.

On the wall inside the closet, by the door, is a misplaced plastic bathroom hand towel holder (put there by the previous owners and remains attached to the wall the 13 years we’ve lived in the house…). I have a few belts hanging from it, my Danskin triathlon medal and now two strands of hot pink Mardi Gras beads that I received at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event a few weeks back. Each strand represents a year of survivorship.

I wasn’t sure how to calculate survivorship. One woman said from the date of surgery when the cancer was physically removed (January 27, 2009), my surgical oncologist said from the date of diagnosis (December 22, 2008), another said when I completed surgery, chemo, and radiation or “active treatment” (October 22, 2009). I decided that I would wear a strand for every year I take part in the Race for the Cure event.

This year, unlike last year, the sun was out. In fact we were having unseasonably warm weather during that week so we decided to go on the earlier side because the forecast was temperatures hitting the 80’s. Our family arrived in time to take part in the one mile fun run. After the fun run that we walked, they had the tribute time for the survivors. I left Darrin and the kids under a shady tree and worked my way up through the crowds and up the steps to join the 1700 (I think) survivors wearing the hot pink survivor t-shirts, carrying pink roses, with those shiny, hot pink Mardi Gras necklaces draped around their necks.

The sister of Susan G. Komen, Nancy Brinker, has inspired me with what she has been able to accomplish with bringing breast cancer awareness into mainstream life. She is an example to me of one woman who has changed the world. The whole month of October is no longer about orange and black, it’s become all about pink. NFL players and even Michael’s football team has pink ribbon stickers on their helmets and pink shoelaces in support of breast cancer awareness. This kind of support was unheard of when 30-year-old Susan G. Komen, was diagnosed and shortly after, lost her battle with breast cancer in 1980. Part of the tribute time was hearing from Nancy in person.

The previous year I sat in the back of the survivor section to the right of the podium and this year I thought, “I’m in a different place, so I’m going to sit in a different place.” I slipped into one of the empty chairs near the back of the survivor section on the left side this time and looked out over the sea of faces. I couldn’t see the shady tree or Darrin and the kids from where I sat and suddenly I felt a bit lost and alone. Then I felt small arms wrap around my middle. I looked down and Julia was hugging me. I was so surprised. I blinked back tears as she smiled and pointed to Darrin and the boys standing off to the side, right outside the survivor section. Both the boys had grown several inches over the course of this past year. Both stood taller than Darrin now, but Darrin’s broad shoulders are still unmatched and they reflected his strength and presence. I was so proud of them. Once again, Darrin had the wherewithal to know that I needed the family close so I wouldn’t feel alone.

The three of them smiled and waved–and in their eyes I saw that they were proud of me. Grateful tears filled up my sunglasses. We listened to a woman perform the Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb”  and watched as the doves flew into the bright blue sky. Julia and I joined the crowds as we cheered for another year and another strand and all that the event represents.