About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day Three

I slept pretty well again the second night in our pink tent. The only issue was waking up really early...like 4 a.m.!  I laid there for a few minutes and decided I needed to go visit the porta-potties.  By then, mom was awake too so we ventured out together. Breakfast wasn't being served until 5 a.m., so we crawled back into our sleeping bags. I had taken out my earplugs and they rolled into a dark corner somewhere. No big deal-I wasn't going to sleep anyway. The next several minutes made me so grateful that we had the earplugs at night! The sounds of snoring coming from 2 sides of us was pretty loud. Then we heard the soft sound of....a fart!  Mom and I looked at each other and just started cracking up! Ah, the sounds of humanity!

As soon as we could venture over to the dining tent, we went. It was a little misty, but we were able to get our food without getting wet. Boy, I'm, glad we got up when we did! Shortly after getting inside the tent and starting on our breakfast, it started raining!  But it didn't get spirits down.  In fact, in some ways, it bonded everyone together even more!  One guy stood up and led everyone in rounds of "Rain, rain go away, come again another day!"  We were ready to walk in the rain if need be, but I wasn't looking forward to striking our tent in a downpour.  

Fortunately, the rain stopped falling after about 20 minutes. Mom and I decided to go for it, so we went out and got our stuff together and rolled up our tent. We took our gear and tent over to the gear truck and were ready to get started. Carylee got there and off we went! 

We did about one mile before the rain started coming down again. So we whipped out our ponchos and put them on over our clothes and camelbaks.  It didn't rain very hard, just enough to make you want to cover up. We had all heard stories about 2010 when the rain was so hard that it fell sideways! This was nowhere near that bad.  By the time we reached the first pit stop at a little over 3 miles, the rain had stopped. I folded up my poncho and put it back in my case. It was green, after all, and clashed with all my pink! 

The first part of the day had us wind around Mission Bay. The crowds were out in even more numbers than the previous two days. It was overwhelming. At one place, there was a "gauntlet" of survivors that we walked through. It was amazing the love and support from total strangers.  There were lots of goodies offered along the way: mimosas, jell-o and tequila shots, candy, tissues, stickers, and more. 

As the course led us out of the Mission Bay area and into Old Town, I definitely saw signs of struggle among our ranks. There were a lot of limping people, but they pressed on. I felt pretty good, although I had developed a "hot spot" that I put a piece of moleskin over. There was a pit stop in Old Town, right at the bottom of the "big hill" of the day, Juan Street.  I sat down on a curb, and my body just didn't want to get up! Others were laying down in the parking lot we were in, stretching and resting. 

One poignant memory I have is when we were waiting to cross the street onto Juan Street. One of the volunteers who was there to help walkers cross safely saw a girl with a picture of someone on her shirt. It was obviously a memorial to someone for whom she was walking. The volunteer asked her who the picture was of. The girl replied that it was her grandmother, who had lost her battle to breast cancer. The volunteer was so sweet in the few seconds we had waiting for the light, asking her what her grandmas name was and commenting on how pretty she was.  As we crossed the street, I saw that the girl wearing the shirt was in tears at the concern shown by a total stranger for grandmother. 

Just seeing this made me feel so good about humanity. At least this little pink sliver of humanity that I was a part of. I realized that each and every person walking and putting their bodies through so much pain had a story. They had a loved one they had lost. Or maybe they had someone they knew who was a survivor, but had a tough time of it. (Who doesn't have a tough time with cancer treatment?)  We were all here, doing this thing together, caring for each other, with a common goal in mind. For the first time, the words they had me say in the commercials made total sense. "We are united."  Yes, we were.  (Look for the 2012 3-Day commercials to start airing in January.)

As we started up Juan Street, I ran into one of my "Hollywood" survivor friends, Marcy. We walked up Juan Street side by side. Mom was in front of us about 10 feet, head down, one foot in front of the other.  It was great. I was having a good time. In fact, I didn't want it to end! There was a rest stop at the top of the hill and I said as much. I think we were about 11 mile into the day at that point. I think the adrenaline was keeping me going. 

It got harder after that as we wound our way down through Hillcrest. But the crowds were there to cheer us on. Sometimes along the way, we would see walkers who had stopped to have a drink together and they would shout and wave at us. We planned on stopping as well, but wanted to wait until we were just a few blocks from the finish line.  Lunch was at Balboa Park, and we had 3.1 miles to go at that point. We didn't rest too long-we wanted to have enough time for our celebratory drink, get our victory shirts, and take our picture in front of the 60 mile sign. We had to be all done by 4 p.m. for closing ceremonies. 

The last few miles were hard. Physically, to be sure. But also emotionally. Perhaps it was being so worn down physically that made me more sensitive emotionally. I felt like every person out there was cheering for ME personally. I wore my "Survivor" tattoo with pride.  I was doing it!  I was a part of something huge, something that is going to make a difference.  At Balboa park, there were girl scouts handing out 1/2 boxes of Thin Mints, a group of Chinese dancers with drums and a Chinese dragon twisting by the sidewalk. It was incredible.  

Dad had been done for a few hours and had found a little establishment about a block off the course, the Knotty Barrel. We made our way in, and shared some wine in celebration. There were other walkers and crew in there as well. It was a party atmosphere, even though we were exhausted. It was a strange kind of exhaustion. I was too tired to really think, my body was tired, but not to the point of dropping. It was an emotional exhaustion as well. Those last couple miles were like an end to the cancer journey for me. Sure, I conquered the 60 miles, but I also conquered cancer and lived to do something this physically demanding. Take that, cancer! 

Dad walked with us the last few blocks into the finish line. I walked in front of mom and dad, and just let the tears flow down my cheeks as I walked by all of the people who lined the street clapping and cheering. When we got into the finish zone, there was a huge gauntlet of people who we walked through, high fiving us as we past. As I made my way down the line, I recognized them as fellow walkers. We did it! 

Mom, Dad, and I were pretty overwhelemed with emotion. We did a group hug. I remember telling them that I couldn't have done it without them, and I wasn't just talking about the 3 Day.  It was every single day since June 10, 2010. I saw memories like photographs in my mind.  Among them: 
  • Fathers Day 2010 when we were waiting to find out how far advanced my cancer was, I remember telling my Dad I loved him. We both fought back tears and just acknowledged that we had to keep our eyes on the Lord, regardless of how hard this storm was hitting us. 
  • July 22, 2010-the day of my bilateral mastectomy. Mom and Dad were there all day, waiting. They stayed and took care of me post-op when I went through this intense hot flash. Dad fanned me with a paper and mom wiped my sweaty face with a damp cloth. 
  • The months after surgery, mom came over to my house every single day to take care of me and help with the kids.  She was there when I saw my new body for the first time. She was there when I suffered from a side effect of the pain meds...really bad constipation. Talk about being there for the nitty gritty! What we went through that day was an ordeal, and only she and I know the full extent of it. :-) 
  • The first weekend of December, 2011 when I was suffering from the allergic reaction to Cipro, the worst hives of my life that ended up triggering my lymphedema. Dad stayed with the kids while mom and I went to urgent care. Mom cried with me publicly when they tried to send me away to the hospital emergency room to a 3 hour germ infested wait just a week out of my 6th round of chemotherapy. Our tears at least got the attention of the receptionist, who put us in touch with an advice nurse via telephone that was helpful. Mom stayed at our house that night in case my allergy took a turn for the worse.
  • Mom met me every day of radiation and sat out in the car with Jean-Marc while I went in for treatment.
Just the fact that they both jumped into the 3 Day with me was awesome, sacrificing their time and physical comfort to take this journey with me.  I am so blessed by them both. 

60 miles, in the bag!
Nancy, Me, and Sharon
We got our victory shirts. Walkers (Mom) got white. Crew (Dad) got grey. Survivors (me) got pink.  We stood in line to get our victory picture. 60 miles, we did it!

After our picture, they started trying to get people organized for the closing ceremonies. Survivors were to gather on a grassy hill at Petco park, so I made my way over there. I was so happy to run into 2 of my other "Hollywood" friends, Nancy and Sharon. I hadn't seen Nancy all weekend!  We compared notes about the walk and our teams. As we started walking, Nancy linked her arm in mine, and I linked my other arm into Sharon's.  We made our way through the cheering street towards the closing ceremonies together.  Along the way, I saw Eric and the kids. That was neat. Jean-Marc ran out to join me, but I had to tell him I'd see him soon. By now, the rain had started again. But it didn't matter. Let the rain come, so what. 

As we walked in, I saw the shoe salute. All of the walkers had taken off a shoe and saluted us as we walked in. That made me start crying again. So much love and support, it was amazing. 

Honestly, I don't remember much about the closing ceremonies. We were right by a circular stage, and when it was over, they started playing some song. (Was it "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang?) Nancy grabbed me and we rushed up onto the circular stage to dance in the face of breast cancer, with the rain sprinkling down on us. It was great.  We were all hugging up there, dancing, celebrating being alive, all bonded together by a common experience. It didn't matter that we hadn't met each other yet-if you were in pink, you were a sister and this was one big family reunion!  

All too soon, it was over. I somehow managed to find the parking structure where Eric had parked.  We all piled into my Honda Odyssey and went to meet my brother, sister in law and nephew for dinner.  It was surreal for it to all be over. Dinner was fantastic, I ate every single morsel of taco and rice on my plate. I was ravenous!  

As we drove home up Interstate 5, we passed by Mission Bay, La Jolla, and then back to Del Mar, where Dad's car had been parked all weekend.  My goodness that was a long way!  And we walked it! 

The 3 Day was an amazing, triumphant experience. When I started training, I felt like I would just do it this year. You know, to cross it off my "to do in life" list. But the event itself made every mile of the 500 training miles I did worth it. 

So much so that I signed up to do it in 2012!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tonya...I'm Cecilia, a friend of Eric's from his NCSU days. I was so happy to receive your Christmas card and to hear that 2011 has been a good year for you and your beautiful family.

    Keeping up our blog is nearly a full time. Madi is a task mistress. I'm not on facebook so I just wanted to drop by to say hi to you all. Even after all these years, I have such fond memories of Eric, his sense of humor and his adventureous spirit and what a fine young man he was and still is.
    Hugs to you all