Still Alive

I recently lost my 19 year old cat, Oreo. I adopted Oreo when she was 10 weeks old and her and I had the longest relationship in my house. The next day after losing her, I received a touchstone with the word “Alive” engraved on it. It was a gift from TNM community and we all received one for signing up for the 90 day course. In my post “Eagles, Already Gone”, I shared about how my motivation to become alcohol free was my pets. The significance of this touchstone with the word Alive etched on it was profound.

On a side note, I’ve been trying to think of a theme song for my journey. One of the coaches suggested this and I had been thinking of this even before she mentioned it. I had a few songs in mind: “Broken” by Trisha Yearwood, “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty, and lastly, “Still Alive” by Social Distortion. Well you can probably guess which song I chose!

10 years ago I lost my best friend to breast cancer. Her and I had been best friends since 8th grade. The same year she passed away, I signed up for the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure. It is a 3-day, 60 mile walk. We lost Tina in February and when I signed up for it, she was still alive. I did the walk that September in San Francisco, ironically one of the days in this walk fell on her birthday.

In signing up with this foundation, they have videos of survivors and tips on training for the walk. The survivors tell their heroic stories of fighting, and ultimately winning, their battle against breast cancer. This foundation, as most cancer foundations do, insist that early detection is the key. Tragically, Tina apparently found the lump in her breast several months before, but put off getting it looked at until it was too late. After watching a lot of these videos I found out this is actually quite common. One woman said she found a lump in her breast over the Christmas holidays, but because everything she was having to do to plan for the holiday season, she put off making an appointment with her doctor. I think our first response when hearing something like this can be harsh, like “you idiot!! If that were me I would be rushing to my doctor!!” But when you have a moment to sit back and think of the gravity of the situation, you may not, in fact, do that. In Tina’s situation, she had 2 young children, a husband and was working full time as a teacher. She was the epitome of health. I cannot tell you (nor could anyone else, I’m sure) what went on inside her head during those months.

So I began training for the walk. I did everything the foundation recommended as far as preparing myself for this 60 mile walk, which averaged 20 miles a day, for 3 days. Initially I walked 4-5 miles a day, walking more on the weekends, until eventually, about 1 month before the walkathon, I was walking between 16-18 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. Most of the time I was walking by myself. Occasionally a friend of mine walked with me. When I walked alone, I loved having my music in my ears. I had a number of songs on my playlist that were inspiring. And a lot of them were played via speakers at the actual event. Songs of inspiration and fight and drive. One of my songs on my playlist, you guessed it, “Still Alive” was one of my favorites while I walked. Part of me was so sad, though, that the gist of this song is about being still alive, and that was not Tina. “And I’m still alive and I will survive, I can take what life’s got to give…I can handle what comes my way, just gimme another day…”

The opening ceremonies was so emotional and thrilling at the same time. Another dear friend of ours walked with me. There was an emcee on stage describing the events of the day and offering words of encouragement and asking us to remember why we’re all here. Right before the shotgun fired to start the walk, the emcee asked us all to think of that person and on the count of 3 to shout their name out loud. All at once everyone (there were 100s of people) in the audience started shouting out names. At the same time my friend and I shouted “TINA!!!”, I heard a man nearby shout “JENNIFER!!!” Of course, this being my name, it caught my attention.

As we started the first day of the walk, littered throughout the event were bystanders cheering and supporting the walkers. Many of them had banners and signs with people’s names and pictures of loved ones. A number of times I noticed signs with this person’s name: Jennifer. Could it be the same person that I heard the man shout out? I know it’s a common name, but I still wondered.

At one of the breaks that day, my friend and I came upon a woman who had one of those signs with pictures of a young woman and what appeared to be pictures of her young family. Her name was Jennifer. When we struck up a conversation with this woman, it turned out Jennifer was this woman’s daughter. This woman also reminded me so much of Tina’s mom. Her mom shared with us that Jennifer had breast cancer previously but it recurred just recently and, sadly, Jennifer passed away earlier that year. She left behind children and a husband, and her husband was walking in this event. Again, I wondered, could it have been that same man?

As the 3 days went on, talking with fellow walkers and listening to speakers during the event, it was clear how much they wanted us to understand the importance of early detection. This foundation is continually doing research and is finding how crucial it is for people to get their mammograms, do self-breast exams and get in as soon as possible once they find anything suspicious. We all know that one of the stages of grief is anger. As we walked and I kept hearing these stories and statistics, I found myself becoming angry with Tina. If she just would’ve gone in for help the MINUTE she found the lump she’d be with us today!! What in the world were you thinking, Tina??? I’m participating in this event, to help raise awareness for early detection for breast cancer; I’m walking for and in honor of you, and you couldn’t even do that one thing that would’ve likely saved your life??

As the 3rd day came upon us, many of us were showing signs of fatigue, myself included. I think no matter how much you train for something like this, you’re likely to experience some physical strain and not to mention the emotional drain that occurs surrounding an event like this. Just nearly a mile before crossing the finish line, my friend and I held hands and started reminiscing about Tina. Her beautiful smile and striking green eyes. The “partier” in her. The feistiness in her 5’2” frame. When you were around Tina, there were always good times to be had. We both cried and talked about how much our lives will never be the same without her in it. Holding each other’s hands and talking about Tina gave us the courage and endurance to make it across the finish line, despite how completely exhausted we were. Tina was definitely right there with us.

When we crossed the finish line, my husband (who had been following along the entire weekend) met us there with some ice cold beers (of course, it was time to celebrate!) The closing ceremonies included the same emcee who was at the opening events. This time, however, several people slowly started coming up on stage behind her holding signs that read “wife”, “myself”, “husband”, etc. These were to represent who in their lives breast cancer had affected. And there he was, Jennifer’s husband, on that stage holding a sign that read “wife”.

You know those moments when something hits you? Like those “a-ha” moments? That almost feel like a slap in the face? That’s what this moment was like for me. There, standing in the audience, emotionally and physically drained from this amazing walk, tears rolling down my cheeks, I finally realized why I was there. Looking at Jennifer’s husband on stage. Staring at this man whose life looked to me like it mirrored Tina’s life in so many ways. He could’ve been her husband, Chris, standing there. Stories like his is why I walked. Yes, I walked in honor of Tina. Because she was my best friend and because she lost her battle with breast cancer. But also I walked for Chris. I walked for her 2 children, Casey and Jordan. I walked for Tina’s parents and her brother. I also walked for family and friends of mine who were survivors. Of course I walked in remembrance of Tina but I also walked for the people in her life who were still alive. For people in my life who were still alive.

My journey to sobriety is teaching me to treasure this life. Just as I mentioned my initial inspiration was my Sabot who lost his young life to a horrible heart condition, I am learning to love my life and take care of my body. I’m learning to forgive my past mistakes. Most importantly I’m reminded why I’m choosing to fight this fight. It is in honor of not only loved ones I’ve lost, but those in my life who are still alive.

4 responses to “Still Alive”

  1. Wow Jen
    This absolutely hits home
    For me and I appreciate you sharing and identity the feelings you had because that can be really hard to do as you are going through this journey

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, Deb, you’re absolutely right!! You are going through this journey as well. God bless you and thanks for sharing your thoughts here!!❤️😘


  2. dianeb89345ed70 Avatar

    Jennifer, what a touching, loving, and sad post! May your dearest Tina Rest In Peace!
    Your wonderful word “alive” is my word also (as I live my life alcohol free now)! We are the lucky ones that can honor our family and friends that have passed with being fully present each day now!!💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Diane, How beautifully put! I hadn’t really thought much about my experience of that walkathon in recent years, but putting it all down on paper gave me so much more resolve, once again.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: