The misty September air froze against my skin; at least, it felt like it did. As we walked along the river, I debated the effectiveness of a faking an injury. Perhaps, then we would finally take a break. Although, It is far more likely we would continue to shuffle on, herded by orange traffic cones and dreary-eyed volunteers. Even now, years later, I still marvel at the fact the race starts at 8:00 AM. Whoever supplied the idea must not have recognized the pain it would cause my nine yearold self. Nevertheless, as we marched through downtown Portland, I felt a distinct similarity to the toy soldiers my brother had been so fond of.
While we were disorganized and reckless, we walked quietly, with a common urgency. The comparison could also be ascribed to the large white lettering across my grandmother’s back: Survivor. In fact, I was surrounded by several women wearing loud, magenta shirts, all inscribed with the same word. At the time, jealousy shook my limbs for | couldn’t obtain one of those shirts. It was impossible. My plain white shirt didn’t compare, but pink shirts were only for Survivors. Looking back, I find it so odd I had yet to recognize the true meaning of the word.
Thad only wanted to join my mom on her annual trip to Portland. She, my aunt, and my grandmother had hauled suitcases up to Portland for one mysterious weekend every year for the past 12 years. Albeit, only recently have I taken notice. In September of 2009, I joined the tradition. The Race for the Cure is a two-day event consisting of a convention and the actual race day. Neither of which I was eagerly awaiting. However, the shopping trip I was promised in addition to my attendance left me quite animated. Over the past several years, I often stared in awe at the ysterious bags of merchandise snuck into my house upon their return.
I felt as if I finally got to learn the trade secrets being a woman: running off to the city to shop, eating at expensive restaurants, and apparently swearing a vow of silence, for only those in attendance were privy to the details surrounding Race Weekend. In retrospect, I realize that my attendance had probably been neither eagerly awaited nor a graduation to womanhood, especially given the amount | complained. At the moment, I didn’t dare consider any of these recent revelations. A whole new world had opened up to me.
Nonetheless, in a true childish fashion, I began to regret it after a mere 24 hours. I didn’t know how the crowd carried on. Especially as we began a steep ascent over Morrison Bridge. How could they not feel my aching feet and burning calves? | couldn’t have been the only one, yet I saw no signs of grief or pain seizing the faces gliding past me on either side. Digging my heels into the pavement and dragging my toes behind me, continued to trudge along. Seemingly hours later, we crossed the peak of the bridge, and I felt like I reached the summit of some unattainable mountain.
I turned to admire the view and saw not rocky, snow covered mountains, but a vast sea of pink. Spinning, I discovered myself to be surrounded. On either side, behind, and in front of me. Completely surrounded and completely unaware of it. As more soldiers marched, the walls of space around me contracted. Recognizing my immobility, my aunt jerked me along. I start the victorious descent to the finish line, but thousands behind me were just beginning their climb. I didn’t realize at the moment the true pain caused by Breast Cancer, nor the pain it caused my grandmother.
I came upon a realization of a completely different magnitude. The world had suddenly expanded past a family tradition. I walked in a race with thousands of people. Simply by being there, I had this small connection with thousands of people, millions if I included those outside of my geographical reach. In some ways, I had entered a new world. A world that did not revolve around my thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. A world in which, while I could not reach everyone, I could connect with anyone.
As a result of the grand awaking, I continue to attend the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure every September. This year I attended my sixth race, which, in comparison to my family’s attendance in 18 race, feels like nothing. Over the years, the drive grows longer and longer, the shopping more tiring, and the hotels less glamorous, but never has that one moment dulled. Every year I trudge along, reading survivor Survivor stories on posters and staring into the eyes of men and women on “In Loving Memory” t-shirts, and a add to the many definitions I relate to the word Survivor.