Travel with Terri
Celebrating Life: Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure
By Terri Marshall, Photos by Jennifer Acocella
On September 24, 2011, the weather in Chicago was chilly and damp. Despite the gloomy weather, the spirit of Carolyn Marshall was anything but damp as she crossed the finish line of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 5K Walk hand-in-hand with her three year old great-granddaughter Katherine. At 70 years old, Carolyn was celebrating a milestone birthday but more importantly her 25th year being breast cancer free.
There was a day 25 years earlier when Carolyn could not focus on the possibility of crossing a finish line with her great-granddaughter. That was the day she was told it was an 80% certainty that the lump she had discovered in her breast was malignant. Surgery was to be scheduled within the next four or five days to remove the lump for testing. Carolyn had a decision to make – the surgeon could test the lump and wake her to decide if a mastectomy was necessary or she could decide in advance. She wanted the cancer out as quickly as possible so her decision was for the doctor to keep her under anesthesia and remove her breast if he found cancer. She was told the procedure would take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes if the mastectomy was not necessary and approximately three hours otherwise. As soon as she woke up, Carolyn looked at the clock and knew from the time stated that her breast was gone.
Over the next few days she listened as the doctors discussed the radiation treatments and options she was facing – feeling all along that this could not be happening to her. Surely they were speaking about someone else. A determined and especially strong woman, Carolyn succumbed to only one full day of tears. She woke the next morning emotionally drained with a pounding headache. She looked at herself in the mirror and said “this is not going to bring back my breast.” It was at that point when she decided to accept her fate, appreciate that she was still alive and begin the road to recovery. Carolyn was fortunate. The cancer never returned.
Carolyn is my mother – or “Mama” as we Southerners say! We have been so very blessed to have her with us for these additional 25 years and hopefully many more to come. She has been married to her teenage sweetheart, Sam (a/k/a “Daddy”), for 54 years. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 45, I was only 26. A young mother with two children, Chris and Jennifer, I could not imagine facing the rest of my life without my mother. Chris and Jennifer are now 31 and 29. Chris is married to Ashley and they have two precious children – Katherine and Marshall. Jennifer is married to TJ and they have one precious baby – Benjamin. My boyfriend, Greg, was also there to participate and support our family in this special celebration. My brother, Wade and his partner, Eric, hosted our Chicago weekend and were the inspiration for this event. Unfortunately, Eric’s mother had a much different breast cancer story.
Judy Wagner found a lump in her breast when she was in her early 40’s through self-examination. She had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She had a clean bill of health for the next 4.5 years and then became sick with pneumonia like symptoms in late 1997. At that time the doctors discovered that Judy’s original cancer had metastasized to her lungs. Over the next three years the cancer spread from her lungs to her bones, liver and then finally her brain. Judy fought the disease with everything she could. She knew she might not win the fight and made the most of the time she had available to her by traveling, volunteering and spending precious moments with her family. Judy Wagner passed away in August 2000.
Wade and Eric have been together since 2004. In 2005, Wade joined Eric and his three siblings on the Susan G. Komen Walk in Kansas City marking the fifth anniversary of Judy’s passing. Wade and Eric have continued walking in Judy’s memory and in Carolyn’s honor each year in Chicago. This year Eric’s father, Lew, joined our family in Chicago for the walk. Judy’s sister, Becky, and her daughter, Virginia, also participated along with family friend, Haley. Our extended family and friends experienced a wealth of emotions on that bittersweet day. There was laughter, but there were also tears.
It is truly wonderful to be able to celebrate life, birthdays, cancer survival, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – but we must never forget that for each survivor story there is a story of someone who left behind a family who misses her (or him) everyday. Never forget and never give-up the fight.
A special thank you to Keith Karner for organizing the American Airlines team that “Team Carolyn” joined and for the beautiful pink basket filled with “Team Carolyn” water bottles, chocolate bars and a journal. For more information on the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure visit http://www.komen.org
Terri is a freelance writer with regular columns on travel, chocolate and bar reviews. She is busy each month visiting new places to bring unique travel destinations and events to you. Yes, it is a sacrifice – but she is willing to do that for her readers! You can see more of Terri’s writing at www.examiner.com where she is the National Chocolate Examiner and at www.barzz.net. You can contact Terri at firstname.lastname@example.org.