Every year around October, the Susan G. Komen Foundation hosts a "Race for the Cure."
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Oh, how I love profound quotations. This one is one of my favorites:
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Recently, I put this to the test.
For weeks I'd had my race packet sitting on a shelf in my closet. The hot pink survivor T-shirt lay there folded neatly with my race bib on top of it. I'd put it in my closet so I wouldn't have to see it on a daily basis. I had so many mixed emotions about the race, and still, I couldn't figure out why I'd signed up.
A few days before the race, I'd made hotel reservations in Macon for us. It would be easier for us to travel down the night before and get a good night's sleep in the hotel. When we arrived at the Hilton, race preparations were already underway. Tents were going up. Large banners were everywhere. The large start/finish line inflatable trestle lay on the ground ready to be inflated the next day.
We entered the hotel and went to the registration desk. There were breast cancer gift bags behind the counter. As we received our room assignments, the clerk handed us a folded letter with a breast cancer ribbon affixed to it. She explained the information contained in the letter was regarding the race and various streets that would be closed in the surrounding area. I told her I was there for the race and she asked if I was a breast cancer survivor. I just shook my head as we left her desk and headed for the elevator.
Once inside our suite, I began to unpack our bags and make things more accessible. As I unzipped our luggage, our race shirts were the first thing I saw. They reminded me, once again, that tomorrow morning, I'd be participating in my first ever 5K. After attaching our bib numbers to the shirts, I hung the shirts in the closet. My husband's shirt was white and mine was pink. All survivors had hot pink shirts with the word survivor and a cute graphic image of a woman racing on the front. I shut the closet door and tried not to think about the race. I was afraid to admit to my husband that I was afraid.
Fear of the unknown is one of the worst kinds of fear.
This quote speaks it best: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” - H.P. Lovecraft
In reality, I doubted myself. I knew I was perfectly capable of walking. I loved to hike and have done it for years. I could walk for days and days ... but that was before all this trauma had been done to my body. I used to know my body well and know what it was capable of and now, I didn't trust my body. My body was weak and broken. It didn't always do the things I wanted it to do. How could one small 3.1-mile race intimidate me so?
When it came time for bed, I prayed and asked God to give me a good night's sleep. Psalm 4:8 kept flowing through my mind ... "In peace [and with a tranquil heart] I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety and confident trust."
I drifted off to sleep and didn't give the race a second thought.
The alarm sounded at 6:30 a.m. Both my husband and I did not want to get out of bed. It was so cool in the room and the bed was so comfortable, but we made ourselves get up and begin to get ready. I was prolonging the inevitable and offered to let Phil shower first. He showered quickly and put on his clothes. He liked his race shirt and as he pushed up the long sleeves, I thanked God he was going to be right beside me today. A small amount of anxiousness left me at the thought of knowing I wouldn't be alone.
Since Phil was dressed and ready, he offered to go down to the restaurant and get breakfast for us. While he was gone, I had time to shower and get dressed. I looked at myself in the hot pink shirt. Survivor. It was written across the front of my shirt so it must be so ...
At 8:15 a.m., we started across the hotel parking lot and headed for the survivor's tent. A huge pink banner marked the entrance. Phil said he'd wait outside while I went in and I grabbed his hand and told him I wanted him with me. We went inside and instantly were greeted by lots of smiling faces. I was directed to the back of the tent where I received a survivor's cap and a bag full of goodies.
The survivor's celebration ceremony began and the emcee stood on the stage asking every survivor present to come forward. A sea of pink began to form and merge into one continuous, long line. We were instructed to come, one by one, onto the stage. "Fight Song," by Rachael Platten began to blast through huge speakers at the sides of the stage. As soon as the words began, I felt myself tearing up with emotion. This was my fight song. I had fought long and hard and I was so tired of it. I was ready to take back my life.
It was my turn to step up onto the stage. To my right there were several presenters holding survivors' medals in their hands. I turned and bowed my head as the medal was slipped gently over my head. As I looked straight into the eyes of the presenter next to me, he smiled a big smile.
Shaking his hand, I fought to keep the tears at bay and then walked across the stage to the sounds of immense clapping and shouts of joy. I couldn't even feel myself walking. It was as if I were on a cloud like conveyor belt. It was all so surreal.
When all the survivors had made it across the stage, the emcee made some final comments and then the music changed. An upbeat exercise tune began to play and the emcee led everyone in some stretching moves with his great motivational chatter. At 8:55 a.m., we were told to prepare for the race. I quickly made a porta potty pit stop and we headed toward the starting line.
The race began promptly at 9:00 a.m. I have no idea how many people there were because people were everywhere! Phil and I were able to get right up front and I was thankful. Runners began pushing their way forward since they were participating in a timed race for prizes. The starting horn blasted and we were off. Phil took my hand and held it tightly. I knew he'd done it to let me know he was with me all the way on this journey.
At first, I felt like I was back at home walking around our old neighborhood. Phil and I would do that often in the evenings as a form of relaxation after a long day at work. The street was pretty level and smooth around the Mercer University campus. We enjoyed seeing the campus buildings and weren't in a hurry but were walking at a good, even pace. We kept our position near the front of the pack and continued on.
Pretty soon the trail began to include some steep grade hills and the walk became a little more challenging. The first mile was over and we pressed on. The course wound through the college campus and into the historic district of downtown Macon. We began passing some beautiful old homes. We noticed our pace had slowed just a bit and people were passing us. It was getting a little more difficult to walk. I felt the right side of my recent incision pulling and my shins were hurting from the hard pavement. I slowed down and Phil noticed. He encouraged me to keep going. He told me I "was going to make it to the finish line even if he had to pick me up and carry me."
I laughed at him and said, "You can't carry me," to which he replied, "Oh, yes I can."
We passed several Mercer basketball players who were cheering and carrying signs of encouragement. All along the way, the volunteers and school students made a point of being there to spur us on.
At the two-mile marker, a water station was available. We quickly grabbed two cups of water and kept going. I looked in front of me and saw a sea of people. I looked behind me and saw the same. It seemed we were now somewhere in the first third of the pack instead of at the very front, but that was OK. I looked down at my feet. I was in this race. I was walking and that's all that mattered.
Between the two-mile marker and the three-mile marker, I got really tired. My legs hurt so badly and I was just wiped out. I realized I was old and out of shape ... no ... I was old and had just had surgery! It's no wonder I wasn't feeling my best. I cut myself some slack and just kept going. Even though it was hard, I didn't stop.
I started repeating Philippians 4:13 over and over again ... "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."
Yes! I could do ALL things ...
I was so happy to see the three-mile marker! That meant the finish line was just around the corner. The crowd started cheering as we neared the end of the line. Our voices rose together into one big "Whooohooooo!"
Phil let go of my hand so I could cross the finish line alone. He'd held it for every step of the race but wanted me to do this part alone. I wasn't afraid any longer. I knew I could do this!
We were almost there ... I could see the big inflatable start/finish trestle just in front of me. As I got nearer, I heard the emcee on his microphone. What was he saying? Was he talking about me? Yes!
He said, "Here's another of our brave survivors approaching. Let's make some noise for this beautiful lady in pink."
As I approached the finish line, spectators on both sides began to clap and cheer. I felt like a celebrity on the red carpet! When I crossed under the finish sign, I was so relieved. A little boy handed me a red carnation and smiled the biggest smile at me. I thanked him and instantly felt peace. It was over. This race I had dreaded for weeks now, was done ... and so was this chapter of my life. I knew I would never walk another breast cancer race again ... not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't need to.
It all made sense now. God had encouraged me to sign up for the race. I needed a visual picture of the accomplishments I'd made over the last 15 months. I needed to see, feel and understand all of the emotions I'd been suppressing. It had been a huge struggle to face all the challenges that had come my way as a result of a breast cancer diagnosis. There had been many ups and downs just like in the walk today with all the steep hills and valleys. It hadn't been my choice to participate in breast cancer. I'd just been forced along the way. I'd been led down a path I didn't want to travel, but I'd kept walking. I hadn't stopped. I'd kept fighting. I'd pressed on toward the goal!
God knew I needed closure on this chapter of my life and that's what the race represented. Yes, I'd been going through the motions ... doing everything I'd been told to do. I'd had the required surgeries. I'd allowed myself to go through various treatments, all with a goal of getting better. Now it was time to move on and to stop focusing on the past. It was finally time to start looking toward the future. Instead of just surviving, it was time for me to thrive. It was time for me to live a life filled with happiness, excitement and joy. I was not going to let cancer define me any longer. Yes, it had been a major part of my life but I wasn't going to continue to allow it to have place in my life. Indeed, I had cancer — there's no doubt about that — but it doesn't have me.
The race was a much needed event in my life. It signified setting goals and accomplishing them. So I will continue to set goals and work toward completing them. With God's help and in His strength, I can do ALL things because He equips me and strengthens me to do them.
I'm glad I signed up for the race and I know the reason I dreaded it so was only a spiritual attack from the enemy. He (Satan) wanted to rob me of all that God was going to give me by allowing me to participate in this event.
My medal of honor
Today, my shins are killing me. I know it's from walking so fast and hard on that rough pavement but it's OK, I know they'll heal in time. There's an old exercise motto, "No pain, no gain."
I don't know who said it first but it means, in essence, if you aren't willing to put forth the effort, even if it requires suffering, you won't gain anything from it. While that quote is true, I know God often uses painful situations to grow and stretch our faith.
I like this quote better: “The stretching of your faith is immediate pain that results in ultimate gain. It is in the waiting that we become who we are meant to be.” - Mandy Hale
God uses all things for His glory. I know He's not finished with me yet. I know I have much to learn and much to accomplish before my life is over. I can't wait to see what journey He's going to take me on next!