Live like you were living

On Rosh Hashanah, my rabbi’s sermon echoed the song “Live like you were dying.” A song about all the things you do, if you think the end of your life is near. A dear friend from my days in Colorado is wearing those boots. She and her husband went to Europe for 19 days, because she has a terminal cancer diagnosis. She joined Facebook, she goes out, she’s still living and living and living.

Coming back from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day, I know that I need to make sure I’m ‘living like I was dying” except without any sort of diagnosis. And instead of living like I’m dying, I want to like like I’m living.

Not what you were expecting from my follow-up post? Let me rewind…

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I applied for the walk for a few reasons. Some selfish (prove that I could complete an endurance event), some semi-selfish (will my online community put their money where their mouse is?), and in honor of friends who have lost loved ones to Breast Cancer.

But then I started training and I found out just how many people in my life are touched by breast cancer. The woman at Metropolis who went bankrupt fighting cancer and slid from middle class to poverty. She’s never recovered. The teachers at my mom’s school who have gone through chemo and masectomies. The moms and grandmothers and aunts of friends who didn’t survive. I finally realized that breast cancer affects everyone, whether or not you realize it.

I also found out that my online community will indeed put their money where their mouse is. I was overwhelmed to meet the miniumum of $2200 in a matter of days. And when I met my goal of $3600, I stopped asking. And then I got all the way up to $5500! Donations came from people I know in real life and people I know online. I heard many stories and my heart couldn’t keep up with number of people clicking on my page to donate.

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We arrived at the Atlanta airport on Thursday afternoon. Colleagues met us there with pink roses, team shirts and a sign. I’ve never been welcomed to an airport by someone with a sign, so that was a welcome change. We hopped into a 15 passenger van and drove to a far northern suburb to check into our hotel. A few minutes later, we were at a buffet eating a very late lunch. Then Tyler, Emily, Val, Katy and I decided to walk to Target.

For the record, people in Atlanta don’t walk to Target. But when you’ve been going on 15 mile training walks, no Target is too far to walk to. We all went to buy random odds and ends–like garbage bags, duct tape, mittens and toothpaste.

That night we ate family style at Buca Di Beppo with the whole team, staff volunteers, family members and the CEO of Edelman North America and his wife. Tears started early as we went around the table, each saying why we were walking. In memory of moms and aunts. As survivors. In honor of survivors. As a personal challenge.

Many photographs and a big slice of chocolate cake later, we were back in our rooms to pack up for the next day. To get prepared for the rain that was coming. No chance of staying dry.

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I overslept on Day 1. Of course I did. Come on, it’s me, I can’t get up on time to save my life. Our team captain pounded on my door at 6AM and I got dressed and down to the bus in less than 15 minutes. I duct taped the hello out of my sleeping bag, grabbed a donut and joined my team.

It was raining. It was cold. It was raining and cold.

That’s day one. I had on a t-shirt, a long-sleeve cool-wick shirt, a fleece, a long-sleeve sports jumper and a rain poncho. And pants, wicking socks and shoes. And that wide-brimmed hat I wore last summer in Israel. And gloves.

I think that’s everything. I stayed dry at my core, but not my feet, hands, arms or legs. The opening ceremony seemed to last forever, because the sun hadn’t risen and it was high 40s and raining. It only got up to 53 at the high for the day.

That’s the overwhelming memory from the day. Miserable moments and hilarious moments in the rain. I almost gave up at lunch. My sleeves were super-saturated, my gloves were like sponges. Lunch was soggy sandwiches in the rain. I turned to Nicole and told her that I might call it a day. She was thinking along the same lines, but Nicole just finished chemo 4 months ago. We all decided to change our socks and give it one more mile.

Changing socks was like taking the best drug ever and at the end of the day (and 18.3 official miles) I crossed the finish line with Wes. Despite being able to walk super-fast, Wes was one of many team members who took a turn walking slowly with me at the back of the pack. Three or four people walked with me on Day One. I don’t know why I’m so slow, I used to walk fast… but at some point in my life I embraced strolling and can’t pick up the pace anymore.

I had a heart to heart with Claudia, the GM from the Atlanta office. Claudia is someone I have always admired, but by arranging this walk and taking a few miles to walk and talk with me… she helped change my life. Time will tell, but I’m sure she did.

That night was the low-point of the walk. The system of busing us to and from the camp-site for showers and dinner was a clusterfuck. No two ways about it, it just sucked. The shower was great. Dinner was great. Waiting in line in the rain was not great. Getting bit by fire ants on my toes was also not great. Falling in the mud? Again… not great. Sleeping on the floor of an abandoned office building with the lights sort-of on? Dry, fairly warm, but far from ideal.

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Around 5:30 AM on the second morning, a 3-Day staff member flipped the lights on in the room we were in. Five of us from Edelman were lined up next to each other. We raised our heads, looked at each other and all tried to get a few more minutes of sleep. Within 15 minutes, though, we were getting dressed and rolling our sleeping bags up. At 6:30 the delivery of duct tape arrived and we all taped our sleeping bags to our suitcases, headed to the buses and went to camp for breakfast.

Oatmeal and coffee put us all in a good mood and we got on the road. The schedule for the day was 18.9 miles. The weather improved and by 9AM or so, we were starting to take our ponchos off and peeling off our outer layers. I think this was the day that we were greeted at a pit-stop by cheerleaders and the day I did the electric slide by a row of porta-potties.

By lunch I was feeling a little twinge inside my pinkie toes and saw tiny blisters starting. I put some body glide inside my toes, changed my socks, ate some Wendy’s and was good to go. I walked slow again on the second day. Talked boys in the morning and about the Sex Pistols in the afternoon.

After 18.9 miles, I crossed the finish line with Claudia and Rex. We all limped downhill from the finish line to the camp and got our tents set up. To be fair, my tent-mate Val had already gotten things set up at ours. Hallelujah! Dinner, showers and a trip to the medical tent to get iced and taped for the final day.

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Camping.

Camping sucks. Sorry to all you folks that think camping is great. After this trip, I’m officially not sleeping in a tent again. (Not until next year when I do the 3-Day again, anyway.) We all froze in our sleeping bags and woke up to very cold clothes to change into at 5AM. Brrrr… Shiver…. Snore (what? me?)…. Brrrr…

Lesson: Talk to tentmate before you go to sleep. Is it okay to cuddle? The answer to that is YES. Yes it is okay to cuddle. Get closer to each other. Don’t spend the whole night shivering in your sleeping bag like we all did.

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Day 3. Up at 5AM. Tent and duct-taped suitcase turned in by 6AM. On the road before 7AM. This was the day that a colleague slipped me a muscle relaxer that made me sing and dance in the parking lot. I think I might have discovered “uppers” and then I walked slow. I couldn’t keep up with my team, not remotely.

Lucky for me, I caught up with a couple ladies from my team (Erin and Emily) who were also in the mood to walk slow. We got taped and paced the Icey Hot back and forth. We had Jamwiches, stretched and got on the road. Lucky for me, I took their advice after 6 miles or so and got on a sweeper.

What’s a sweeper? A van that drives up and down the route, picking up people having bad walks. I’d stubbornly finished the first two days, but was in a lot of pain on the third day. No legal amount of Alleve was going to keep me on my feet, so I took a fast-forward trip to lunch.

At lunch I got my ankle taped, my calf taped and both iced. Then I got my lunch and joined the entire Edelman team for a slow lunch in Piedmont Park. Did I mention we finally made it to Atlanta? From the park, we only had four miles left to walk.

We all took off together and I walked at the back of the pack with Ivette. The team met up after a mile at a bar and had a round of drinks, before heading on the last three miles. We all met up again at the final pit-stop of the day. Around the corner, a colleagues partner was waiting for us with coolers of margaritas. We all chilled together until 4:30, when we headed to the finish line.

After a mad dash for bathrooms, we walked through the courtyard of the Georgia World Congress Center and to the finish line. Just before the finish line, we linked arms and chanted ED-EL-M-A-N over and over. We got into the holding room with five minutes to spare and were welcomed by 3000 people cheering to We Are The Champions.

Cue more crying.

We got our victory shirts. White for walkers, pink for survivors and gray for crew. We were given roses again and started to sing, dance, take pictures and cry some more. I can’t begin to explain how emotional the walk is. The number of stories of survival and loss is overwhelming. The physical effort is overwhelming. The weather. The kindness of strangers. The cheers. It all overwhelms.

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In the closing ceremony, we found out that the Atlanta walk raised $8.3 MILLION for breast cancer research. We cheered our survivors. We cheered the crew. We cheered the friends and family who supported us. We raised our shoes in silent salute of the survivors. We cried. We danced.

And then we went to Claudia’s for barbecue.

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Top Lessons Learned

1. Breast Cancer knows no age limit. My colleague is only 31 and already a BC survivor. You are never too young to take BC seriously. Give yourself a self exam, get to the doctor, take this thing seriously.

2. Cheering is important. I will now be one of those people who dedicates my Sunday afternoon to cheering people doing endurance walks or runs. I did not know what a difference one person cheering makes.

3. Komen has their stuff together. The 3-Day is a well run event. Pit stops, food, medical, sleeping, buses… despite my complaints, it was great.

4. I appreciate working at Edelman more than ever. Edelman leadership supported the walk financially and it has paid off ten-fold, I’m certain.

5. Donate whenever possible. Even $5 shows support that is like sending a hug. I will continue to donate as much and as often as I can, because it makes a difference.

6. Pink Ribbons aren’t trite. While I don’t remember a time without pink ribbons, I heard stories of men and women being shunned because of cancer. These events are important for survivors, family, friends… to everyone.

7. Live like you were living.

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