Written: September 2008

 

This week, I will undertake one of the most grueling events in my life. I will walk 60 miles to help raise money for and awareness of breast cancer research. I am taking part in the Breast Cancer 3 Day Walk in Seattle. And the reason I signed up for this physically demanding quest?

My Grandma. And Mario Lemieux.

My Grandma, Alma Christine Ring, was a big, loving woman. She raised six boys: Frank, Joe, John, Jimmy, Tommy and Eddie. She was quick with a quip and made the best pot roast I’ve ever eaten, or will ever eat. She swore (always accidentally, like this time: We’re walking to Mass and Grandma steps in a pile of dog poop. Grandma: “Oh, shit!” Me (straight faced): “Yep, that’s exactly what you stepped in, Grandma.” We ended up linking arms and laughing the rest of the way to church). She made farina for breakfast every morning (that’s Cream of Wheat to you and me). She never missed an episode of “As The World Turns.” She believed that after dinner coffee should never be served without a healthy slice of Entenmanns’s coffee cake (the kind with the cream cheese in the middle). She loved John Denver and always asked my sister Karen and me to sing for her. Her favorite song was “Annie’s Song.” She encouraged me to never stop dreaming. She encouraged me to always keep writing. She gave me permission to use her maiden name for my pen name. I used it on my first novel.

I watched Grandma whittle away to nearly nothing over a several year period. She said her doctor told her she had an ulcer and to take Mylanta every day. She had a cabinet stocked with those teal blue bottles. When the pain became too bad, she went to another doctor. It turned out, she had cancer. It was everywhere and there was nothing they could do. They closed her up. She died months later. I sang “Annie’s Song” at her funeral. Then threw myself on top of her coffin.

This was in 1986. In 2006 I found out that Grandma hadn’t died of stomach cancer. That she’d had breast cancer. She’d undergone a double mastectomy in the 70’s. But the cancer came back, and finally claimed her. In 2006, at age 42, I made my first mammogram appointment.

Mario Lemieux became my favorite player when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 80’s. I was mesmerized by the way he played. Okay, I also thought he was quite handsome. He still makes my knees weak.

I know Mario played most of his career through all kinds of health issues. Chronic pain. Several surgeries. Cancer. Radiation. Through it all, he laced them up (or asked someone else for help lacing them up) and took the ice, again and again. Again and again, he lived up to his nickname Le Magnifique.

I have never had cancer, thank goodness. My mammograms have all come back clear. But I do live with constant back pain. I survived a bad car accident four years ago. My broken ribs healed. My crushed leg muscles regenerated. But my back has never been the same. My doctor has offered to prescribe a strong pain killer to help me through my day. I stick with Aleve, because of my past experiences with stronger “stuff”.

I signed up for the 3 Day Walk in April. I started training in July. I’m not as fast as I used to be and my endurance is not as strong as it used to be than the years before my accident, when I walked 3 miles a day. But I am walking and I know that my endurance will come back. The speed will come back.

Like anything else I’ve ever done, I find I work best when I take things one step at a time.
And so I walk. For Grandma. For Mario. For all the women I know who have battled breast cancer and won. Or lost. For the loved ones they leave behind.

But most of all, I walk for myself. And for the self that is yet to be revealed.

Who do you walk for?

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