The Faces of Breast Cancer
Every year, the Susan G. Komen foundation organizes 15 three-day walks in cities across the country to raise awareness about and funds to help fight breast cancer. It's an intense event: walkers wear out their shoes hoofing it more than sixty miles -- twenty per day, sleeping in tents at night -- and by the time they cross the finish line, everyone is exhausted and brimming with emotion. Most walkers are "walking for" someone -- a loved one who's fought or been lost to breast cancer -- or they've survived it themselves. My wife and some of her friends participated in the San Diego event this past weekend, after having an amazing, life-changing time participating two years ago. I brought my camera, and was beyond moved by what I saw.
Update: Nancy, shown in the picture above, saw the blog and writes in:
My friends and I are the first picture. We met on the 3-Day and will be life long friends. I am on the right. I lost my mom 10 years ago to breast cancer and it was my 22nd walk. Stacy is in the middle. It was her 10th walk and her mom is a 9 year survivor. Roberta is on the left. She is a 10 year survivor and it was her 20th walk. This was our final walk and the end of an amazing journey. It was a very emotional Day 3. Thanks for capturing it!
Along the routes, walkers are cheered on by crowds, 3-day workers, locals who stand outside their houses holding signs, and by "walker stalkers," who drive alongside walkers, honking and shouting encouragement.
Participants and supporters are universally decked out in pink -- one lady even painted her dog pink.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. In 2004, more than 500,000 people died from breast cancer -- that's about one percent of all deaths, period. Many walkers carried signs of remembrance for lost loved ones.
Looking through my photos from the event two years ago, I realized that out of more than 4,000 walkers each year, I had taken a picture of the lady in the photo above twice on different years, holding a sign for her sister. Wow. That's devotion. You go, lady! (Above: 2009. Below: 2007.)
There's also a contingent of "young survivors" -- generally women under 35, and some, shockingly, in their teens -- who have survived breast cancer. (There are also male survivors -- one fit-looking man wore a shirt that read "RARE BUT REAL.")
After ten miles in a single morning, walkers take a break to lunch and relax in a park.
I watched thousands of women and men cross the finish line, crying, holding each other up -- a few being carried because they couldn't walk anymore. All who looked on were deeply affected.
For more information about the 3-Day Walk for the Cure -- to participate, donate or just spectate -- check out their website.