The beeping sound pierced my ears sharply, and I abruptly sat up in the dark with my eyes still closed. I reached to the left, groping for the alarm-clock snooze button. Through the blur of my nearsightedness, I squinted at the LED lights. It read 5:30 a.m. The voice in my head whispered, “Go back to bed.” I sat in the blackness of the early morning, contemplating how good that would feel.
Then I thought of my friend Liz, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought of her two beautiful children and her loving husband. I thought of her mother, who is also battling cancer. I thought I had better get up and get dressed. This was not a morning to sleep in.
As I got in my minivan and pulled out of my sleepy neighborhood, the road felt lonely. Once I got onto the highway, it seemed that traffic was as active and lively as any time during the day. That was a bit surprising, given that it was 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. But this was not a typical Saturday morning. This was the morning of the Susan G. Komen Charlotte Race for the Cure.
Approaching Gateway Village in downtown Charlotte was a line of cars waiting to park. I could see runners and walkers gathered in groups heading toward the center of all the activity. There was a breast cancer survivor breakfast, tents full of vendors, and pink everywhere to mark the symbolic color for the cause. Pink T-shirts, pink hats, pink ribbons, pink shoes, pink back scratchers, pink Frisbees and more.
Liz's best friend, Lori, had organized a group of nearly 80 people to race, run and walk in honor of Liz and her mom, Margie. It was a moving experience to see all who had committed to this team wearing their bubble-gum-pink and black T-shirts. It was a testament to Liz and how she has touched so many lives. She is deeply loved and cared for by many people because she has deeply loved and cared for others.
There was a competitive 5K (3.1 miles) run, a noncompetitive 5K run and walk, a 1-mile fun run and a Komen Kids 50-yard dash. I chose to participate in the competitive run. I use the term “run” loosely because a slow jog feels like running to me. As far as being competitive, I was really competing with myself to see if I could finish.
When the race started, it was an emotional experience being part of a pink sea of people all moving as a unified force to run for the battle against breast cancer. It was an awesome display of love and respect. It was an inspiring movement against something that can rob us of joy, health and life.
In the first mile, we ran uphill through the neighborhood streets of Charlotte. It felt challenging, and I wondered if the incline of the road would flatten or head downhill. Families sat in their front yards, cheering on the runners. Kids in their footed pajamas waved and screamed. Soon after the 2-mile marker, we passed the starting line where the runners and walkers for the noncompetitive 5K were waiting for their race to start.
I looked up and searched the crowd for bubble-gum-pink T-shirts. Fellow team members, including Liz and her children, were jumping up and down, cheering.
At about the halfway mark, I saw a young girl stop and her mom put her arm around her. Then she bent over and got sick while her mom rubbed her back. I hoped I would not reach the point of feeling ill during the run.
In the last mile, the crowd started to thin as some people continued to run and others slowed it down to a walk. As I jogged past a couple, I noticed that their two dogs were wearing pink T-shirts. That made me smile and forget about the exhaustion I was feeling in the last half-mile. I saw runners encouraging each other to keep going. “We can do it. We're almost there,” I heard one man say to his daughter. Rounding the corner for the final stretch, I was grateful it was downhill. Crossing the finish line felt like a celebration.
As I crossed the finish line, I thought about how that 5K run was like what Liz might endure in her battle against breast cancer. In the first mile as she begins her treatment, maybe it will feel like an uphill climb. But there will be family and friends running alongside her and supporting her.
When she feels ill, her friends and family will be there with her. I hope that she will find days during her treatment that feel like the road flattens out or heads downhill so it's easier to move forward and keep going. And all will celebrate when she crosses the finish line a survivor.