Last weekend I spent the entire time with breast cancer survivors at the Race for the Cure in Portland, OR. We have one of the largest races in the country with over 45,000 participants. The sea of pink was beautiful and the faces of those personally touched by breast cancer were beautiful.
The Race for the Cure is more than a way to raise awareness and money for breast cancer. It is a way to pay tribute to those fighting this deadly disease and for those in the fight to honor those who support them through their journey. But even more, it is about hope.
I participated for the first time in 1996. I was right in the midst of treatment for my first diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer, but somehow I felt compelled to be there. I was a little nervous about being out in public with my bald head, but I did it anyway. It was crowded and crazy…and inspiring. The emotions I experienced when I saw my name on the “In Celebration of…” signs pinned on my friend’s shirts as they started the walk with me is something I will never forget. I didn’t know the signs were a tradition, so seeing it the first time brought tears to my eyes. I felt loved and supported in ways I had not experienced.
I wore pink that day too. I had my pink hat and my pink survivor t-shirt. As I trudged along the race route, in between chemo treatments, I found myself envying the people who got in line ahead of me and were already done. I remember counting down the kilometer markers…5, 4, 3, 2 and finally my last marker appeared and I knew the end was near. But what I didn’t expect was that as I approached the end, I was really about to find a new beginning.
As I noticed people lining the streets to cheer on the walkers, I suddenly came to a place near the end where I could actually hear the announcers. One voice came over the P.A. system said, “Here comes another survivor now!” I turned to look and realized I was the only pink hat/pink shirt around – she was talking about me! The crowds roared and those lining the street began to clap and cheer at ME! My bald head was no longer something I needed to cover. Instead, it became my badge of courage.
With tears firmly marching down my cheeks, I picked up the pace. I was exhausted, but I found new energy. I actually began to run…yes me, overweight, under-exercised, and tired and sick from chemo. But somehow, the love and support I felt at that moment from complete strangers gave me the inspiration I needed to keep going.
When I finally reached the finish line and I ran through the “Survivor” gate, I felt like a winner. I was probably runner number 20,000 across the line but I felt victorious. I KNEW at that moment that I would survive.
I’ve gone every year since and those same feelings come back to me every time. The race is not only about money and research and crowds. It is about hope – something every survivor needs.
Becky Olson is a professional keynote speaker and author. Her inspiration comes from her experience as a two-time breast cancer survivor and co-founder of a successful non-profit, Breast Friends in Oregon. Becky left her career in sales and sales management to pursue her dream of speaking and writing. He book, "The Hat That Saved My Life," was first published in 2004. Becky now travels all over the country sharing hope and inspiration to women suffering through the same disease that one time threatened her life.
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