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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Support > Stories of Inspiration > Julie Graham

  


Julie Graham

Julie Graham

Sea of Pink—A tribute to survivors

You know the sleep where you are totally lost in your dream and cocooned in a warm web of blankets and there is no possibility of ever wanting to awake? Well I was experiencing that sleep until I was rudely interrupted by a rapid banging on my bedroom door. "No," I thought as I tugged my sheets closer to my chest and squeezed my eyelids tightly together, as if by some magic my lost sleep would soon reappear. "Julie, wake up. Don't you want to go to Race for the Cure® this morning?," my dad asks, as his deep voice penetrates just beyond my locked door and comfy cave of covers.

Every signal that my body was sending me urged me to reply with a stern "No" and stay in bed, but I knew that my heart would not let that be my final answer. Reluctantly, I gripped my comforter with all my strength and whipped it over, exposing my sleepy body to the cold air whistling out from my dusty air-conditioner vent. I knew there was no way I would ever emerge from my bed if I did not do it all in one fast motion. My feet flung off my bed and onto the scratchy carpet with my tired torso trailing behind. As I gazed into my mirror, I questioned my reasoning for ever telling my parents about the breast cancer fundraiser held 45 minutes away from my cozy bed on the second floor. Was I thinking clearly when I excitedly told them to all wake up really early and pay to run around with a bunch of people that none of us knew? What was the cause again?

Breast cancer, that's right. Almost every woman in my family had contracted this horrid disease, and I felt this was my way of showing them all that I cared (with the added bonus of required community service hours for school). Randomly I yanked clothes from my overstuffed drawers, not even caring if they matched or were in style. Knowing it was freezing outside, I bundled up (once more) with a long-sleeved shirt and my old basketball warm-up pants that made a "swish" noise with every step I took. "I'm coming Dad," I replied to him after tying up my hair in the messiest bun I had ever created.

Arriving at the Race
The car ride to Downtown West Palm Beach was not long enough, for I only was able to nap for what seemed like two minutes. I felt every bump and every crack in the road as my head bobbed up and down against the tinted window. Finally, the torture came to a close and our huge Suburban came to a halt. With my dad and mom in the front, my three siblings and I in the back, my family filed out of the car as if it were packed with six clowns and a stroller. The adventure was soon to begin.

There were people in matching white t-shirts flooding the sidewalks and all headed in one direction. It was as if there was an enormous magnet and hundreds of tiny metal objects were just gravitating towards it. With this being our first of many journeys to the Race for the Cure®, my family and I stood on the side of the road dumbfounded at all the people involved in this charitable cause. As we merged into the traffic of people, we saw families just like us, walking with no true direction and following the flow of those who knew where to go. Among those were the "runners" and the "dedicated."

The runners wore tiny neon running shorts that had high slits on either side of their thighs (whether they were female or not). Most of the runner women wore tight sports bras that displayed their thin and muscular stomachs, which flexed each time they exhaled. Often, the men wore nothing but the shorts accompanied by a thick hairy back and chest. To me, these people were just here to run, with the bonus of it being for a good cause.

The dedicated were the people who knew where to go and when. Donned with Race for the Cure®-pink from head to toe, these women traveled in packs and were all in the age range of 50 and above. With aged faces and hunched backs, the dedicated seemed to walk with an unexpected bounce in their step. It was as if they had lived and learned, and now had the chance to display all their knowledge at this one event. Yet no matter the classification, everybody there wore a Race for the Cure® t-shirt and a number sign on their back. Attached to them were paper signs with scribbled handwriting that was not legible from where I was standing.

Checking in
My family approached the sign-in tables unprepared for the experience ahead. As my mom checked all of us in, the lady behind the table designated "Last Names A-H" handed us our t-shirts from the many overflowing boxes behind her. "Sorry, we are all out of smalls and mediums," she said with a sympathetic smile on her face and a bundle of six shirts in her hands. This did not surprise me for it has never failed for my family to be late to any function we attend and be left with the scraps of the early birds ahead of us. "Oh that's fine," my mom said, obviously not considering the danger zone of fashion she had just entered my entire family into.

The enormous shirt tented over my body and was breathable, to say the least. I looked to see if anyone else appeared as foolish as I, and I realized that my little sister had me beat by a mile or two. Her shirt, or better yet dress, draped down to her knobby knees and the sleeves engulfed her tiny arms as if they had been shrunken. "Whew," I thought as my mom then ushered us to the next set of tables, my dirty shoes beneath me, shuffling through the morning dew. Scattered all over the table were hundreds of the signs we had seen on people's backs on our way in, laying next to thousands of safety pins glistening in the newly born sun. "What are these for?," I wondered, and scanned the premises for any clue on their function.

In memory of
The answer soon became clear to me as I spotted a little boy with a pair of freshly soiled knees and dirty tennis shoes just like mine, lined with a thin layer of wet, newly cut blades of grass. On the back of his t-shirt was a sign that read, "In loving memory of My Grandma," safety pinned on and waving in the breeze. Sadness overcame me. Just to think that this boy most likely will never have a memory of his grandmother due to the silent killer breast cancer. The more I looked around, the worse it became. "In loving memory of...my mom, aunt, sister and wonderful wife," were some of the signs I saw, just to name a few. My heart became very heavy and I no longer cared how ridiculous I looked in my shirt or how unhappy I was to be away from my warm bed at home.

I was just about in tears until one of the "dedicated" passed me and I was able to read her special pink sign up close. "In celebration of... MYSELF!" She had written those letters so proudly on her back for all to see that she was a grateful survivor. Her short gray hair was barely visible beneath her bright pink ball cap and the most distinguishing characteristic about her was her even brighter smile. I followed her with my eyes as she united with an entire group of the "dedicated"—survivors just like herself. All of these women have survived this devastating disease that had stolen the lives of many women (and men), just like the little boy's grandma, and now are doing something about it. Together. "Race for the Cure." I get it now. Everyone here has been brought together to raise money towards the research and the cure for breast cancer. This, all of a sudden, was not about the free t-shirt and four volunteer hours. This was something much bigger. This was about love and life, and how sacred each of those things are.

A personal connection
Upon this realization, my head was cleared of all the confusion about the different types of people and my heart was filled with the shared love between everyone there. "Here guys. Fill out your own, okay?," my mom said as she handed us our own signs and black markers. My mom then began to recite out loud all of our family members that held a place on my back and in my heart. "Grandma Gloria, Aunt Elsie, Aunt Azalea, Aunt Bonnie, Aunt Pauline." The list grew and grew. I was so unaware that cancer had affected my family tree this much. I ran out of room and needed another sign. By the time all of us were finished, my family walked away with our numbers and two "In celebration of" signs trailing on each one of our backs. The signs felt like a cape and I felt like a walking memorial to all the suffering and pain my family members have been put through.

There was not one back without a sign present in all of Downtown. Everyone had known someone in their life affected by cancer and we all came together as one to help those in need of a resolution. After my family and I strolled across the finish line of the Family Fun Walk, we made our way towards the open amphitheatre for the closing ceremony. Mariah Carey's strong voice reverberated into every heart as her moving song, "Hero," projected over the loud speakers. Then, the crowd parted in two, as if it were a gate opening to long-awaited visitors. Flooding through the entrance was the most beautiful sea of pink I had ever seen. The dedicated slowly made their way to the enormous stage, holding pink carnations high above their heads. As the flowers bobbed weightlessly over the river of survivors, my family and I stood with our jaws dropped in awe of the massive amount of women involved with this disease. By the end of the song, the stage appeared as if it was painted a pink hue due to the hundreds of women filling every inch of the surface.

How has this been such a widespread problem and I (this entire time) have not even known the full extent of it? Cancer had just been a fairy tale and a horrible message I would receive upon learning of a loved one who had contracted the ailment. Now, cancer became real. Now it became, sadly enough, familiar and not as uncommon as I once dreamed it to be. It was there, among hundreds of strangers, that my eyes were suddenly opened and all I wanted to do was help in any and every way possible. Thank you, to every survivor, for showing me what true strength and courage is really about.