Not Just Any Walk: Taking Steps in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

By Vito Forlenza

We were drenched. From every hair on our heads to the smallest wrinkles on our toes, we were soaked. Our hands looked like prunes and our feet … well, they looked like prunes that had been left out on a countertop for way too long.

The Washington, D.C., area was witnessing record rainfall … and my wife, Jamie, and I were out for a walk. Not just any walk. A walk of 21 miles. A walk with about 1,000 others. A walk aided by a support staff of 300. It was Day 1 of the Susan G. Komen Washington, D.C, 3-Day for the Cure, and we were walking around the nation’s capital in a deluge as part of an effort to fund the fight against breast cancer.

(XFINITY TV Director Vito Forlenza and his wife Jamie)

The Komen 3-Day is a three-day, 60 mile walk in 14 cities throughout the U.S. that aims to raise money to fund breast cancer research, education and public health outreach programs on both national and local levels. Since the walk’s inception in 2003, Komen has raised more than half a billion dollars.

The organization also bills it as the “boldest” breast cancer event in the country.

As seasoned veterans of the 3-Day, Jamie and I could attest to that sentiment. We began walking in 2007 – a little more than a year after Jamie had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

We’ve raised more than $25,000 from our five 3-Day walks thanks to the generous support of family, friends and colleagues. We literally could not walk in the 3-Day without their support – each walker must raise a minimum of $2,300 to participate. For us, there are other aspects as well.

We walk to honor friends and family members who have been affected by breast cancer, to remind ourselves of the impact this disease can have on a family and to reflect on Jamie’s journey.

Sometimes, we laugh about a good memory. Sometimes, we choke up about the rough parts of the battle. Sometimes, we discuss the next steps.

Even though Jamie has recovered from her battle and gets to walk as a Survivor, we know that others aren’t fortunate enough to make the walk.  Others who have lost their battles.  Each picture in memory that passes us on the back of another walker’s shirt is that reminder.

So we continue walking. We march on until our steps and our dollars help find a cure.

Of course, the 3-Day is not a solemn slog around town. It’s a colorful, fun event.

Walkers and crew members dress in some crazy outfits, some dye their hair pink and some carry signs with amusing slogans and playful innuendos. (For instance, a popular button among survivors is, “Of course they’re fake. The real ones tried to kill me.”) And for some reason, it’s become a custom of sorts for walkers to wear tutus. So yes, I sported a tutu while walking 60 miles around D.C. It’s all in an effort to draw attention to the cause – after all, you can’t really raise awareness while dressed in an everyday outfit.

It’s also a place where you meet some of the nicest people in the world. Walkers look out for each other. Crew members stand in the middle of the busiest intersections to help walkers through the route. And complete strangers cheer walkers on and give them refreshments – simply because they’re walking down the street.

And while we didn’t see any many people cheering throughout Friday’s downpour, we did feel the affection when the skies finally cleared Saturday afternoon. And Sunday’s emotional closing ceremonies – when a parade of Survivors enters to a sea of fellow walkers saluting them by raising their shoes in the air (because we walked for them) – proved that every wet stride was worth the effort.

Little did we know that more proof was only moments away.

On our way home that night, we stopped at an Italian restaurant for a much-needed feast. We asked for a table in the back since our 3-Day gear didn’t really mesh with the rest of the crowd’s attire. We were a little uneasy at first – it’s not normally how we would dress for dinner at a nice restaurant.

But then a funny thing happened. A woman approached our table and asked if we had just walked in the 3-Day. We told her we did, and, after congratulating us on the 60 miles, she thanked us for walking. She had recently lost her mother to the disease, and told us of her efforts to raise awareness and money for the fight.

Then, another woman and her husband sitting at a nearby table thanked us for walking. She is a four-year breast cancer survivor and quickly started a conversation with Jamie about her experiences.

In a range of just a few tables, the damage of breast cancer was just as evident in that restaurant as it was in the rain that weekend.

And that’s why we walk. That’s why we ask for donations. That’s why we train all summer, sacrificing the bulk of our weekends. That’s why we walk in the rain and sleep in tents and wear tutus.

That’s why we’ll sign up to walk again next year.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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