Personal Stories, Community, Dollars Making A Difference
By: Jim Hillmann
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Eleven years ago, I walked 60 miles over three straight days in San Francisco in the fight against breast cancer. It was my first Susan G. Komen 3-Day® event. Since then, I’ve participated in 63 3-Day events and walked nearly 4,000 miles.
It all started as a one-time way of honoring and celebrating my mom’s life, which ended after an eight-year battle with breast cancer. But now I’m committed to walking until we find a cure for breast cancer.
I’ve become part of the 3-Day community over the years and built relationships with other walkers and crew. I see familiar faces, new faces and never get tired of that post-walk feeling, where I reflect on the difference we’re able to make in the lives of so many…and get excited about the next 3-Day walk where we can do it all again.
One of my favorite parts about walking is that you never know who you’re going to meet and whose lives you’ll touch or those who will touch you. During the Boston 3-Day event in 2011, I met a young girl at the top of Belmont Hill who has forever changed my life.
She was standing along the walk route with a sign that read: “My mom died from breast cancer. Keep walking for a cure.” It included a picture of her with her mom. My heart was touched to the core. I could sense the pain she felt for the loss of her mom. I stopped for a moment and gave the girl a gentle hug and told her that we loved her.
I kept walking but couldn’t get the image of that little girl’s face out of my head. I knew I had to learn more about her story. I later posted the photo I took on Facebook, and immediately was flooded with comments and friend requests from people who wanted to help.
Later that year, I walked the San Francisco 3-Day and attached a laminated image of the little girl to my pack. People would ask me about her, but one woman, named Kristina, started crying when she saw the picture. As it turns out, Kristina was from Boston and knew the little girl. Her name was Zoie and she was the youngest of three sisters. Their father wasn’t in their life, and their mother passed away from breast cancer. I could tell these girls needed our help and told Kristina about the people on Facebook who heard about my search for Zoie and also wanted to help her.
Over the years since meeting Zoie, the 3-Day community has provided Zoie and her sisters with so many things to support their lives, including clothing, a new furnace for their home, a headstone for their mom’s grave and a 10-day trip to California. I continue to stay in touch with Zoie and her sisters and consider them family. Zoie just turned 17 and will be volunteering her time in Boston at the New England 3-Day this year. My hope is to take her to Belmont Hill and tell her the story of the “little girl on Belmont Hill,” the special story I have told hundreds of times, but never to her.
Not a walk goes by where I don’t think about the impact the 3-Day makes on others’ lives. Through contributions and support, words and actions, lives are changed, and progress is made toward finding the cures for breast cancer. To me, the 3-Day is like the parable of the mustard seed: As a participant, we never know what small, insignificant action (insignificant to us, that is) is like a mustard seed being planted. Although we may not remember a smile we shared or words of encouragement we gave to someone struggling, what we did may continue to grow and impact the person who received our action in ways we may never know. Through everyone’s planting of seeds, the breast cancer community will continue to grow stronger and stronger.
I love participating in the 3-Day and interacting with the people who are there – whether it is a fellow walker, a staff member, a volunteer or the supporters who come out and cheer us along. Everyone has a reason for being there and I love being able to share stories, talk through fears and support each other.
For the past five years, I’ve participated in all seven 3-Day events: Dallas/Ft. Worth, Michigan, New England, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. I’ll be doing it again this year. No matter where I’m walking, one thing never changes: The communities helps those affected by breast cancer.
For many, they wonder if their participation really makes an impact in others lives. To answer this question, I offer a special moment in Dallas in 2012 while walking on a warm afternoon. Off to the side, I saw an older lady quietly cheering us on during the 3-Day. The Survivor button on her shirt caught my eye, so I went to her, told her all survivors receive a hug and said, “We are all walking for you.” I noticed her eyes beginning to fill with tears. Stepping back, she replied, “You cannot fully understand how much your walking means to myself and other survivors. Your walking gives us hope. Thank you.” To all who have participated and are considering, never doubt the impact you are making in so many lives.
I encourage everyone to participate in a 3-Day walk and help us support those who are impacted by breast cancer. Together, we can make a difference in each other’s lives. And together, we can end breast cancer forever.
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