I have put off writing this post for years. Literally. I don't relish writing about things I couldn't change, yet still hate. I am emotional to the point of hilarity. I cry over commercials, I cry on the heels of a smile, I cry. Period. It's 12:41 and I've cried twice today (granted for very legitimate reasons, but still). So I don't often dwell on this. But to help people understand, and for posterity's sake, here is the Why I Walk post.
In 1990 I was 7 years old. On March 18, I lost my paternal grandfather after he suffered a massive stroke on his way to the grocery store 18 days earlier. He managed to pull into the parking lot of a restaurant and put the car in park before losing consciousness. I wish I was being overly flowery when I say that my world was turned upside down. I've been blessed with an incredibly vivid memory for certain details and dates in my life. I remember the pain radiating from my mother for those two and a half weeks. The youngest of five, she was incredibly close to both her parents. For over 30 years she's worked in the hospital where both her parents took their last breaths. I remember the sofa my sister and I were sitting on was incredibly hot. I remember that version of my father - barrel chested, thick beard, all of his hair still raven black and not thinning. My eyes kept darting back and forth between Dad of my left and the TV set to the right. His eyes were trained on the TV but he wasn't seeing or hearing it. He was listening to what was going on behind him. I remember seeing the coils of the phone cord stretched from the kitchen around the corner to the dining room, and I remember hearing Mom choke back sobs. I knew. I don't know how I became that little person who knew things, but I spent a lot of time hanging around all my aunts and grandmas being seen and not heard. A kid can pick up a lot of information and cues that way. And being freakishly linked to my mother from the zygomatic stage didn't hurt either. So I knew. I wasn't going to see Papa come walking in the front door again, fedora perched atop his head and pipe in hand. I wasn't going to be swung through the air, one of his hands gripping my wrist and the other on my ankle playing Airplane. I'd never been to a funeral, but a few days later I learned I didn't like it one bit.
Life returned to sort of normal. My sister and I finished our school years (first and second grades). Dad worked. Mom worked (a little - she'd taken six years off completely when we were babies and went back to the hospital part time when I was 6). I still spent most afternoons at Nana and Papa's, only now it was just Nana's. I was incredibly fortunate to live less than five minutes away from both sets of my grandparents. Nana and Papa were my mom's parents. Grandma Betty and Granddad were dad's. I didn't know it at the time, but in 1990 my Grandma Betty was fighting breast cancer for the second time in her life. How do you explain cancer to a 7 year old? How would you have done it 20 years ago? Cancer was still a dirty word, let alone breast cancer. She'd had a double mastectomy that year, something I didn't learn until over 10 years later. I knew my Grandma Betty was sick, and that we couldn't climb all over her, but honestly, both my grandmothers had always been more frail than their husbands. Raising children and grandchildren while your husband goes to work can wear on a woman, even if she is incredibly strong. Visits to Grandma Betty and Granddad's were quieter, more subdued than they'd been in the past. Grown ups spoke in hushed, urgent tones (sidebar, do adults not think little people can pick up on tone? I think being left with the sinking feeling that something is wrong but nobody TELLING you what it is is worse than knowing. But I've always been the person to choose bad news first in an "I have good news and I have bad news" situation).
Sometime that winter, my dad went to Australia on business. He traveled internationally and across the states for a good portion of my formative years. Gone for six months, home for a few days at Christmas and then gone again. My parents were early adopters of the HUGE camcorders. It was the only way Dad got to experience birthdays and other milestones some years. I don't know how long he was supposed to be gone this trip, but assume he was due home for Christmas. In the years of travel he never missed a chance to put together a My Little Pony castle and eat Santa's cookies. I was part of a group performing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at a city council meeting two weeks before Christmas and I was BESIDE myself with excitement. After my star turn Mom dutifully shuttled me to Nana's, then to Grandma Betty and Granddad's so I could show off my fabulous outfit and gap where a tooth had been days earlier.
The visit was short, subdued and honestly I was a little bored. I remember hugging goodbye more clearly than anything else. In hindsight I know it's because I wish instead of hugging quickly I wish I'd held tightly. I wish I'd climbed into her lap and sat quietly while she told me things she was supposed to have decades to share. I wish I'd told her that even though my sister and I weren't allowed to be quite as rambunctious at her house as we were at our other Nana's that I still loved spending time there. And that her grilled cheese sandwich would go down in history as my FAVORITE food, as well as one that nobody else could come close to. I wish I'd had the chance to tell her that the dog she and Granddad owned was a mean little bastard that snapped and snipped at me EVERY chance he got and that I wish they'd gotten a bigger, sillier, more playful dog that would tolerate kids better. I wish I'd had the chance to tell her that the sounds of several large clocks in a small space chiming every hour was something that I'd always associate with her home.
My Grandma Betty died late the next morning. My poor daddy was in Australia when his mom died. He got a flight out the next night, and when he walked through our front door after spending the better part of 24 hours on a plane I saw my father really cry for the first time in my life. Grandma Betty was 58 years old when she died. If she were alive today she would be 79. My mom's parents were older. It didn't hurt less to lose them, but they were both 76 when they passed away, five years apart. Grandma Betty was 58. When Granddad died seven months later of a massive heart attack he was only 60. I feel robbed. I have always felt robbed. It's not unreasonable to think that they could both still be alive and active today, especially my grandma. The advances made in breast cancer treatment in the last 21 years have been remarkable. She could have seen me get my license, go to prom, graduate, could know me as an adult. Could be my confidant. Could commiserate with me when my dad gets to be a little too much to handle (often. Very very often). I had four amazing aunts step into the role of substitute grandmothers with ease and grace, but they were already REAL grandmothers to their own grandkids. Running through a front door shouting "hi, Grandma!" was something I didn't get to do enough.
I walk for my Grandmother. I walk because my chances of breast cancer are increased by sharing a bloodline with a woman I barely got to know. I walk because I have faith - in God and in science. I think God took my grandmother out of my life to GIVE me renewed life. Walking in my first 3-Day changed my life from the inside out. I mean it when I literally wouldn't recognize the girl I was before I joined the 3-Day family. And I know that in my life time we're going to find a cure from breast cancer. And all cancers. Being a part of that is the best thing about me. Period. I can't think of a better way to honor the woman I wish I still knew, the beautiful women I've known since then who have bravely and valiantly fought this horrible disease, the men and women fighting right now and that so one day, my daughters will never have to worry about breast cancer, and just wonder why the hell there are so many pictures of their mom with pink hair.
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