I hung up the phone and sank to the ground, careful not to wake my sleeping infant. My mind struggled to wrap itself around the news. My mother had breast cancer. How could this be? With five grandchildren under 5, and a son still on his honeymoon, there was so much life left to live and see. My sister and I spoke on the phone, both feeling helpless.
“Why don’t we find a breast cancer fundraiser and run to support her?” I suggested.
Kelly immediately agreed.
Within a day we found a race — Northwest Hope and Healing was having a fundraiser in West Seattle. My mother was born and raised there, and our lives had been marked with frequent visits to various sites along the route. It started and ended at Lincoln Park, the place we had watched tides ebb and flow all of our lives. It was perfect, save two things: it was a half-marathon, and it was two weeks away, giving little time for Kelly, who was coming off a year-long running injury, and myself, who had just had a baby, to train.
We signed up anyway. If Mom could do hard things, we could do hard things.
On race day, I kissed my three young children goodbye and headed to Seattle. Kelly dropped off her two toddlers and met me there. We were handed our race shirts. Kelly turned hers over. In a giant Sharpie she wrote, “FOR MOM” across the back of her shirt. I did the same.
The race started well. We were flanked by dads pushing strollers and kids holding signs with their mom’s name. One pre-teen boy ran by and high-fived us. He was running for his mom, too. As we passed businesses along the route, patrons and owners came out and cheered, adding their support to this momentous cause.
The energy, adrenaline and enthusiasm took us through the hilly course for 10 miles. Our bodies and emotions took over from there. We encouraged each other the best we could, remembering we were honoring our mother’s courage in her tough fight.
The course looped back to Lincoln Park, and we stopped to get water. When we attempted to start again, my legs wouldn’t work — the lactic acid had built up and locked my limbs. My sister looked at the familiar park, home of so many precious family memories, and was overcome. Together we seriously questioned whether we could finish the last mile. We started out slow, arms entwined, limited by my awkward gait, and her tear-impaired vision. What a sorry pair we made!
Suddenly we were three, as a dark-haired stranger joined us with a cry,“FOR MOM.” Another older woman came from behind us, fist-raised “FOR MOM.” Soon we were surrounded by women of all ages and backgrounds, running with us on our journey adding their cries “FOR MOM.” With the communal support, my pace increased. Kelly’s head raised. The women’s feet around us pounded the pavement with encouragement. We ran toward the pink-and-white balloon arch together.
Once across the finish line, we collapsed, wept, and hugged. In that moment, with the crowd cheering our success, I had an epiphany. Far too often we face our challenges alone. We run or walk our own paths, not wanting to slow or burden others. That day I learned there is great power in taking our journeys together, whether we’re walking or running full-speed ahead.
That was back in 2002. Just a few weeks ago, another bad-news call came. This time, COVID-19 ensured there would be no supportive community Race for the Cure, even though we still planned to run. Would this be a journey we would do alone?
My now much older daughters came up with the solution. At the beginning of quarantine, they started a 5K Fridays campaign. Each Friday, they ran a personal 5K to bring awareness to a cause, never dreaming it would hit so close to home. Running bibs were changed to pink and sent out to immediate family. On the designated Friday, when pictures of pink-clad participants streamed in on the group chat, a familiar feeling arose. Sweaty faces of children to seniors held signs running “FOR MOM,” golfing “FOR MOM,” walking “FOR MOM.” The love and support sent from grandkids, children, siblings, nieces and nephews across multi-state lines was palpable. The forum was different, but the message was the same: together we can do this.
Perhaps in no other recent time have world circumstances forced us into a more isolated reality. It is easy to feel alone. Unloved. Unsupported. For some, walking the difficult path alone may seem inevitable.
It is not. We can still walk and run our journeys together. Our support, love and listening may look a little different, but is more necessary than ever. We may have to look a little harder to see those hobbling along and struggling. We may have to be creative how we best deliver our support. We may even need to swallow our pride and send out a personal cry for help.
But our increased efforts to run, walk and lift each other will be rewarded by a beautiful reminder; we are all part of the human race.