How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Breast Cancer Awareness and Love the Avon Walk
The “Bird Loop” ringtone started to play on my cell phone at a low volume. Over the next few minutes, the “Bird Loop” slowly got louder until it gently woke me from my slumber.
My head was still foggy from too little sleep, but I forced myself out of bed anyway. I quietly, so as to not wake my wife (hopefully), made my way to the bathroom. I got dressed, donned my muted green Crew shirt, and made my way into the living room. After checking the outside temperature, I put on my jacket, grabbed my Crew notebook, walkie talkies, and a few other essentials and made my way out the door.
The 2012 Charlotte Avon Walk for Breast Cancer had begun for me.
Actually, it started the night before on Event Eve. We checked in, had our final meetings, and met our crews. I saw many familiar faces, connected with friends from last year’s event, and saw even more unfamiliar faces. This event, and many more events like this, bring together people, from all walks of life (yes, that pun was intended) for a common cause. The complete and utter eradication of breast cancer.
Each of us is affected by this disease in many different ways. And I saw that in the faces of everyone that I passed. From the smiles of the survivors, to the Asian Girl who was fighting back tears as she was writing the name of a loved one on a sign for whom she was walking. It could be a relative, a close friend, or even themselves. They were walking, volunteering, or crewing for someone with, or a survivor of, breast cancer.
My story began 10 years ago when my sister Val Dowd was diagnosed with the disease. She eventually lost that battle in September 2011. I started to Crew the Avon Walk in 2007 in honor, and then in memory, of my sister.
Over the years I became aware of the pink-washing of this deadly disease. In October, you can’t go anywhere without seeing something pink emblazoned with the signature ribbon logo. But, does this help raise awareness or does it glorify, or minimize the disease?
Then there is the question of companies such as Avon and many others being involved with raising money for Breast Cancer Research when their products themselves may even be a cause of illnesses such as cancer.
It was with this trepidation that I had decided that this year would be the last time I crewed an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer event. Or so I thought.
My crew was the Pack-Up Crew. Our job is to keep the Wellness Village clean by picking up all the trash and then tearing down the Wellness Village on Sunday. The Wellness Village is the destination for the first day of the walk (it’s a two day event). The walkers begin at Opening Ceremonies, walk 26.2 miles on Saturday, camp overnight in the Wellness Village, walk another 13.1 miles on Sunday, culminating in the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.
As more people arrived in the Wellness Village on Saturday afternoon and into the early evening, my team got busier, but I was still able to observe the walkers as they milled about the Wellness Village, nursing sore feet and pulled muscles. If they were too sore to walk, I would take them to the Medical Tent or to the Buses in the Gator (possibly THE best reason to Crew the event – I got to drive around the Wellness Village in a Gator … sweet!). Everyone I talked with, no matter how sore or tired they were, said, with a smile, that they’d finish the Walk on Sunday.
That was the general feeling in the entire Village. People who were tired, sore, and a little weary, all smiling. All happy to be there. Celebrating and congratulating each other for completing the first part of the walk. Sharing stories of hope or loss. Laughing, crying, singing, sweating, hydrating, celebrating, and having a great time.
As I saw this unfold before my eyes many times over the weekend, something inside me clicked. I realized that it doesn’t matter who sponsors the event or even if they truly support Woman’s health, because it’s not about them. It’s not about the companies that participate in the pink-washing of this disease for their own gains. It’s not even about me, or my sister Val.
It never was.
It’s about the Walkers. Those people who train, raise money, walk 39.3 miles, endure sore muscles and blisters in places they didn’t know existed. It’s about their reasons for walking. It’s about their experience while walking, at the Wellness Village, and when they cross that finish line amongst all the cheers and tears.
I never did see the Asian Girl from Event Eve. But, as I was filling out my form to Crew the event next year at Closing Ceremonies, I hoped to see her, and everyone else that I met, again next year … as I whiz by in the Gator!