Monday, September 10, 2007

I hope...

"You make a living by what you get.
You make a life by what you give."

Winston Churchill

This past weekend, I walked in The Weekend to End Breast Cancer in Toronto. This was my first year walking the event and it is was an exhilarating experience that I will never forget.

The weekend started on Friday night, or Day Zero. I showed up at Exhibition Place for registration. Although the line was long, the process was very well organized and it went quite smoothly. I watched the mandatory safety video, handed in my last minute donations, picked up my package and received a truck assignment for my bag. (Those who choose to camp also received their tent assignments.)

Saturday morning arrived and Steve dropped me off at Exhibition Place bright at early at 6:15 am. The grounds were already buzzing with thousands of people. I dropped off my bag at the designated truck, grabbed some coffee and a muffin and waited for the opening ceremonies to begin. My friend Deb, my walking partner for the weekend, was meeting me there along with a few of her friends. We tried to connect before the walk started but weren't able to so we agreed, after many cell phone calls, to hook up at the first rest stop. During the opening ceremonies we learned that the 5,521 walkers had raised $17.3 million for Princess Margaret Hospital. After a beautiful and inspiring speech from a breast cancer survivor we were on our way.

Departing Exhibition Place

Near the start of the route, along the Lakeshore

I started out at the very back of the pack and slowly worked my way up in an effort to catch up with Deb and her friends. Along the way, I had the honour of walking with Dr. Tak Mak, Director of the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research. He told me a bit about his team's research and gave me some interesting statistics about breast cancer. Currently, 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. That's right, 1 in 8! When he was in medical school, it was 1 in 25. And through research, they've been able to determine that women who wait until 35 or older to have children increase their likelihood of developing breast cancer. Since I just celebrated my 35th birthday and have not yet had children, this one really hit home. It was fascinating to speak with Dr. Mak and I'm thrilled that I had the opportunity to walk with this incredible man. He leads one of the world's best cancer research teams and is working hard to eradicate this horrible disease.

I did finally manage to meet up with Deb and her friends Tanya, Brenda, Cammy (sorry, not sure if I've spelled that correctly) and Karen. The six of us walked together for a while and then broke off into two groups of 3 as, Tanya, Brenda & Cammy went on ahead. We hung back a bit but kept up a good pace. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, luckily not humid, but still quite warm. I was starting to slow down as we neared our lunch spot and was very thankful for the kind people handing out popsicles near Rathburn Road. It was exactly the sugar rush I needed to get me through to the lunch stop. The kindness and generosity of the people along the route was overwhelming. Citizens of Toronto decorated their houses, offered us food and water and cheered us on all along the 60km route. And there were signs all along the way, some hand drawn by children and strapped to telephone poles. The amount of support was amazing.

Drawn by a Grade 2 student from St. Agnes School

A musician entertained us as we walked along the Humber River.

Somewhere in Etobicoke, a local resident lends her support.

An amazingly decorated house in Weston.

The people in Weston were awesome!!!

One of the most amazing supporters was Rob. We first spotted him in Bloor West Village, unmissable in his shocking pink hair. He kept reappearing along the route. He would wait until he saw the last walkers and then would hop on his gorgeous Yamaha motorcycle and meet up with the front of the pack and watch us walk past again. Every time we came upon him, we were rejuvenated!

Karen, Rob & Deb somewhere in Etobicoke.

And speaking of support, the volunteer crew that policed the intersections, drove the sweep trucks and staffed the rest stops were unbelievable. They kept our spirits up the whole time.

Somewhere around 5pm we made it to Downsview Park, the end of Saturday's 33km route. As soon as we saw the "tent city" we were thrilled to be staying in a hotel. I enjoy camping, but this was a bit much for me.

We grabbed some dinner, I retrieved my bag, and we headed to the Travelodge for a shower, some rest and a celebratory drink.

Me, Deb, Cammy, Brenda, Tanya

We awoke on Sunday morning to rain. It was chilly and damp when we set out at 8am, but the rainfall had stopped. Deb and I were much more energetic that those who had camped at Downsview, probably because we were drier and warmer. The crowd was obviously walking slower and I was dragging my butt due to the pain in my hips. But we made a conscious effort to pick up the pace and catch up to Tanya, Brenda and Cammy who were a few kilometers ahead of us. Once again we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people along the route who were feeding us and cheering us on.

Deb and I on Sunday morning, rested and ready for the final 27 km.

Sunday was a bit of a Toronto nostalgia trip for me as we walked by my former and current places of employment as well as my first Toronto apartment. Deb didn't make too much fun of me as I told her where we were and stopped to take pictures of almost anything. (Thanks Deb!)

We were fading once again as we approached our lunch spot and were thrilled to turn the corner into Rosedale off the Bayview extension where the awesome people from Xerox were handing out popsicles. And not just any popsicles, but yummy Breyer's treats. I happily devoured my Firecracker, thrilled by the sugar rush. We then lunched in beautiful Chorley Park and headed into the last leg of our journey.

The last part of the walk seemed to go really fast, probably because we where in the part of town I knew best and have walked through countless times. One of the most emotional moments for me was when we walked past Princess Margaret Hospital. We were greeted by a crowd of people including Dr. Tak Mak and other hospital staff, shaking our hands and giving us high fives. I cried like a baby as I realized that this huge building was full not only of people suffering from all types of cancer but of doctors, nurses and staff dedicated to battling this disease in all its forms. I thought back to about ten years ago, when by friend Karmen was battling leukemia, and my mom and I came to Princess Margaret to visit her. At that time, they were fundraising for a building expansion. There was a plexiglass box in the lobby in front of a mock up of what the new building would look like. I think my mom and I stuffed all the money we had in our wallets in that box after seeing our friend in pain and witnessing the incredible care she received. Thankfully, Karmen is happy and healthy and enjoying life as a newlywed.

A sculpture in front of Princess Margaret Hospital, presumably decorated by walkers.

Feeling re-energized after this emotional moment, Deb and I continued down University Avenue and arranged to meet up with the others at the final pit stop. We were thrilled to find out that the last stop was located on the grounds of the Steam Whistle Brewery and that walkers were being treated to free beer! We sped past the water station and straight into the brewery. After two days of walking, this was a huge treat! Thank you Steam Whistle!!!

After a brief rest and a yummy beer, we set out on our last 3 km towards our final destination, Exhibition Place.

Somewhere in that crowd in front of the Princes' Gates is my husband Steve...

After a hug and a kiss from Steve (who graciously took our picture with many cameras - see group shot below), we headed towards the Direct Energy Centre for the closing ceremonies. We walked through a huge crowd of supporters and our fellow walkers who greeted us with smiles, tears and high fives. Once again, I was overcome with emotion and the joy of actually completing the walk. I never once thought that I couldn't do it, but I was still so proud to have made it to the end.

We did it!

Deb and I, in pain but victorious!

Once we picked up our victory t-shirts, we waited for the last walkers to gather in the holding area. When it was time for the closing ceremonies to begin, the breast cancer survivors were asked to gather and head towards the front of the pack. It felt like the stream of survivors was never ending. How awesome is that! So many people who have fought and won the battle against breast cancer.

Walkers gathering for the closing ceremonies.

The closing ceremonies began and it was time to celebrate our accomplishment. All of the muscle ache and blisters were worth it, not only raise money to fight breast cancer but to feel like little old me could actually help. I'm not a scientist, so I won't be finding a cure for any disease any time soon. I'm not a doctor or nurse, so I am not only to care for the sick. But I can do my part to help the process along. And if that means walking 60km and personally raising over $2,500 I sure as hell am going to do it! In his speech at the closing ceremonies, Dr. Tak Mak summed it up best with this quote:

“I am only one, but still, I am one.
I cannot do everything but I can do something.
And, because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do what I can."

Edward Everett Hale


e-Lizabeth said...

I've said it before, and I will continue to say it until my very last breath. You rock my world. I love you.


vivian said...

Right back at you babe!

melanie said...

wonderful Vivian, I had tears in my eyes reading this.

vivian said...

thanks melanie! It was a very emotional event.