I had my first contact with cancer walks in 2005 because the street my family lives on was part of the course for the local Cancer Walk. My wife, youngest daughter, and I sat on our front porch, waved, and said “Hi” to the participants as they walked by. The following year, my daughter Sydney was 5, and she decided to write inspirational notes on post-its we had lying around the house. “Nice job Ladies!” “You can do it!” “Good job!” she wrote in the best printing she could muster for her age. Then she stood out by the curb and “posted” her notes on the ladies as they walked by. They seemed thrilled and so thankful for the gesture. The following day the local paper featured pictures of the event, and in some of the photos, we were able to make out Sydney’s post-it notes, still on the shirts of participants. WOW! Syd was thrilled. Her notes had made it to the Newspaper...She was famous! And I was intrigued. These notes had survived the second day walk on women walking in the heat, sweating, and moving for 13 miles. How could that be?
Two years later, my Church became an “Official Cheer Station” for the local walk. As a cheer station, anyone who wants to come out to root for someone they know in the event can just show up at one of these predetermined locations. Our cheer station was packed. Sororities came. Extended families came. Lots of people had signs, some had t-shirts. Almost everyone had at least some pink on them. A gauntlet of cheerers a half block long greeted the participants on the second mile of the second day of the walk. And we cheered. For three hours, we cheered. Every person who walked past until the very last person got a whoop-whoop, a high five, a smile, and sometimes, a big hug.
Something happened that day that I didn’t expect. At least a dozen times, a participant would walk through our station, and fall apart...crumble in someone's arms, sobbing, unable to continue for a few minutes. These were not tears of sadness, but of joy. They were so grateful to have people out cheering them on and they felt so overwhelmed that they could not contain their tears. This was a struggle they carried alone most of the time, and I don’t think they were used to this kind of public support.
And suddenly, the post-it notes made sense.
Of course, the post-its would make it to the end. Of course they would make it to the pictures in the paper. They were treasured parts of their day, and they were thankful for the little girl who passed them out. I found that show of appreciation (for us showing our appreciation) overwhelming emotionally. I cried a lot that day. And it was then I realized that this is NOT a fitness walk. This is NOT something that comes easy to some of these people. It is a struggle for many of them, and the show of support is exactly what they needed to keep going. This walk is something these people NEED to do. To contribute. Maybe to try to take away some of their pain. I would venture to say that very few people who walk have had no personal contact with the pain associated with losing someone to cancer. Most knew exactly what that pain felt like, and this walk was a way to help try to spare someone else that pain.
That day I decided I wanted to help. I knew I wanted to support these specific people. I don’t know the pain associated with losing someone close to me of cancer and I don’t feel compelled to walk or run in these events.
Cancer’s SOS is for those people who feel compelled. For those who need to participate. Cancer’s SOS is for all those people.
I do not know the pain you might feel. I hope I never do.
Maybe Cancer’s SOS will help my hope become a reality.