Blisters are temporary. Fierce is forever.

Content warning: this post is about my participation in a fundraising walk to end breast cancer, including reflections on my mom’s battle with cancer. If breast cancer – or any kind of cancer – is a sensitive subject for you, you might not want to delve into this post right now.

This past weekend, I participated in my second Avon39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer. Participants raise a minimum of $1800 then walk a marathon and a half over two days – 26.2 miles on Saturday, 13.1 miles on Sunday. Sharon McGee and her daughter, Amy, my friend from Trinity University, started the Texas Ta-Tas in 2009. Each year, the team consists of a slightly different group of women, though this year, most of us were veteran Ta-Tas. Committing to the walk is more than just agreeing to raise $1800. It’s dedicating countless hours to training (and hundreds of thousands of steps on our Fitbits!) and a long weekend away from work, home, and family. It’s being willing to sacrifice comfort for an important cause, knowing your blistered feet, sore muscles, and tired body will make a breast cancer patient’s life a little easier. With hope for a cure, we pound the pavement once a year, relying on our individual and collective strength to get to the finish line.

The night before the walk, we gathered for dinner at Ciro’s Italian Grill for the traditional pre-walk carb-loading. Wine has carbs, right? We were missing two team members, but we were happy to be together after months of planning, training, and fundraising in different cities.

Dinner at Ciro's

Clockwise from bottom left: our favorite volunteer, Mike (Sharon’s husband and Amy’s dad,) Sharon, Amy M., Shannon, me, Nicole, Christina, Molly, Amy P., Marisa, and Kathy. Amy A. (yes, we have three Amys on our team) and Mayson had to skip dinner, but we ate some pasta for them!

We started Saturday morning at 7:00 in the rain. 

Rainy Walk Collage

There were a few dry miles in the morning, but the rain always came back. I’m not in these pictures because I started at a different location from the rest of the Ta-Tas and didn’t cross paths with them, except briefly at lunch. Our team mom, Sharon, was sidelined with an injury and wasn’t able to walk with us this year, but in addition to being our head cheerleader and encourager, she kept up a mobile command center and alerted us to any potential dangers!

Ponchos Avon39 Houston 2015

Walking in the rain collage

Still raining.
Still raining Avon39 Houston 2015

I was soaked to the bone at lunchtime and didn’t have a dry pair of socks to put on, so I slogged through the afternoon in my muddy socks and shoes, getting sunburned after I forgot to reapply sunscreen. I just wanted to make it to mile 26, so I didn’t stop often.

Day 1 Collage Avon39 Houston 2015

This is the best rest stop on Day 1 because you get to go inside the building and use a real bathroom. Heaven!West U Library Rest Stop

This rest stop had plenty of everyone’s favorite Avon39 snack, Graham Snackers. The volunteers refrigerate them and cut them in half, and they are OMG delicious, and you can literally only get them on the walk. No one knows where they come from – the organizers must fly them in overnight in secret.

Graham Snackers

One of the best things about the walk is the crew. Many crew members volunteer every year, so if you’re a frequent walker, you get to know them. CJ (on the left) is the caboose. He rides his bike and makes sure every walker makes it back to the base camp at Rice University. Esty (fuzzy pink leg warmers) is part of the motorcycle gang directing traffic at various intersections. Gotta love guys who wear pink pigs on their helmets and boldly decorate their motorcycles with pink feather boas!

CJ and Esty Avon39 Houston 2015

We couldn’t do the walk without the volunteers and route cheerleaders. The volunteers keep the rest stops stocked with water, Gatorade, and delicious snacks (see above,) and people (and some dogs) drive from cheering station to cheering station, giving us all the high fives and sometimes candy. 🙂

Cheering supporters Avon39 Houston 2015

Christina, Amy A., and Mayson finished first on Saturday. They were probably clean and dry by the time I reached mile 20.

Christina, Amy, and Mayson Day 1

I had to quit after 23 miles because I developed a blister under my right big toenail, probably due to walking through rain and mud for most of the day. Disappointing, but I had to get off my feet. Fortunately, there is Uber! I called for a car, and within five minutes of deciding to stop, I was in the car on my way home.

I started out Sunday morning with new shoes (I couldn’t wear the muddy ones again – they were just too gross) and dry socks – yea! – feeling pretty good, despite the blister. The first 5 miles went well, fooling me into thinking the last 8 miles wouldn’t be torturous.

Shannon and me Avon39

Day 2 Collage Avom39 Houston

Saving Second Base Avon39

Goofy girls Avon39 2015

Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I started fading around mile 32. The mile 35 marker taunted me – the slower I walked, the longer it would take me to reach the finish line. I limped the last 2 miles. My feet were throbbing; my lower back, hips, and tailbone hurt; and it felt like I had pulled a muscle in my inner thigh. I could feel my body twisting itself to compensate for the foot pain, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I hobbled along with Shannon, who always had my back.

Finish line Avon39 2015

Crossing the finish line with my amazing Texas Ta-Tas was very emotional. I was relieved that the walk was over, overwhelmed with support from some of the finest, strongest women I know, and heartbroken that my mom was not there cheering for me. I felt her presence more strongly than I have since her death in October 2012.

Finish line Avon39 2015

I Crushed It Avon39 2015The blisters really are temporary. I’ll probably lose my big toenail, but that is nothing compared to what people undergoing treatment for breast cancer go through. The marathon and a half distance is symbolic; you walk to the point of exhaustion the first day, then get up the next morning and do it again. You persevere despite the pain, knowing that you will soon recover and resume your normal activities.

Cancer treatment is debilitating. You hit pause on your real life so you can fight for better days. My mom was a five-year breast cancer survivor when she was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in 2009. We knew treatment would not cure her cancer. Her oncologist said our goal was to keep the cancer quiet for as long as possible. Mom persevered through the bad days so she could spend as much time with her grandchildren as possible. It still hurts my heart that she died when Anna Jane was three and Luke was one, but I’m grateful she got to have those years with them.

We walk so that others may have more days with their loved ones. We walk so that women (and men, who can also get breast cancer) who need lifesaving mammograms and cancer medicine will have them. We walk so that our children might one day live in a world in which 1 in 8 women is not diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

This is most of our team. Amy A. and Christina had already finished when we took this picture. On the ribbon are the names of people in whose memory and honor we walked this year. Amy M. carried the ribbon the whole 39.3 miles.

Ta-Tas on Bench with Ribbon

My fabulous team achieved platinum status again this year – we were in the Top 10 at number 5, raising $48,000. Our top fundraiser, Sharon, raised over $17,000 and was the number 3 walker in the Houston event.

Texas Ta-tas platinum pic

Together, the walkers and crew of Avon39 Houston raised $2.7 million dollars in the fight against breast cancer. Isn’t that incredible! One of the things I really like about the Avon39 Walk is that all the money raised stays in Texas. The 2015 beneficiaries include:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • The Methodist Hospital Foundation
  • The Rose
  • University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
  • Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation

Since 2003, 207,000 people have walked 6,868,000 miles and raised $550,000,000 to end breast cancer forever, and I’m proud to have played a little part in this amazing accomplishment.

I’m feeling better today. I’m still tired and sore, but my blister isn’t bothering me too much. I’m grateful to all of the people who helped me reach my fundraising goals. Knowing that my donors believed in me made me push through my fatigue and discomfort so I could stand underneath that finish line arch. I appreciated every “You go, girl!” Facebook comment, message, and text. Staying connected to my supporters through social media is such a wonderful gift.

Another Avon39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer is in the books, and the Texas Ta-Tas are already planning our next one. 🙂

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