Emory Report
December 15, 2008
Volume 61, Number 15



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December 15
, 2008
Optimistic and walking for the cure

Paula G. Gomes is director of the Faculty Staff Assistance Program.

In 2006, I received a phone call from The Emory Clinic that changed my life forever. The radiologist delivered the dreaded news that the results from the biopsy showed that I had breast cancer. Of course, the impact was devastating. It took a few months for me to regain my center after accepting the diagnosis and receiving extensive treatment at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute (WCI).

The special support I received from my husband, family, friends, co-workers and colleagues assisted me on this journey. I met and bonded with many patients along the way, fighting to survive the challenges of cancer. During one WCI visit, I saw a flier about the Atlanta Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk and I promised myself to try it one year.

This fall, I decided to take on the challenge to walk the Atlanta 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk sponsored by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. In August, I contacted the WCI Team captain, Kate Carlson, an Emory nurse practitioner, to find out more about the walk. As a result, my preparation and training began.

Why did I walk?
I walked this 60-mile walk on Oct. 24-26 for several reasons. First, I wanted to challenge myself physically, emotionally and spiritually to take on the training for the event. Before then, the longest walk I had participated in was a 5K walk in Connecticut some years ago. Another reason I walked was for those who for various reasons were physically unable to walk. Also, I wanted to support the research efforts that are happening around the world to find a cure for breast cancer. Emory has many researchers who are giants in their fields, including my medical oncologist, Dr. Ruth O’Regan, who has many clinical trials focused on finding ways to save lives. Finally, I walked to increase public awareness about this challenging disease and the importance of early detection.

What did I learn from the walk?
On Oct. 24, the first day of the walk, my teammates along with thousands of other walkers started from North Point Mall in Alpharetta. This was the most challenging experience of the three days because of the harsh weather, which was rainy and cold. We met wonderful supporters who provided snacks and warm beverages along the route. We made it through those first grueling 20 miles by talking, laughing and encouraging each other in the rain.

On the second day of the walk, I left later than the rest of my team, and as a result met many people along the way. I met walkers from states across the Southeast, including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. There was a strong spirit of camaraderie and purpose among the participants. I met many survivors, as well as walkers with family histories of breast cancer, who were walking in memory of mothers, aunts, daughters, nieces and grandmothers.

We talked, laughed, shared stories, and even danced the electric slide at one of the pit stops. We connected as if we had known each other for a lifetime due to the special bonding that occurs when you take on such a challenge as this.

On the final day, a Sunday, I started out walking with three childhood friends from Tennessee. They were walking in memory of a fourth friend who had died from breast cancer in March, at the age of 32. I enjoyed meeting them and hearing their story of friendship and dedication.

By midday, I caught up with members of my team. We walked the remainder of the 20 miles together. One special memory that I’ll always cherish is having the chance to carry a large pink and white flag with the word “Optimism.” This was very affirming for me because that word reflected my approach to my own healing.

Another special highlight was the final mile of the walk. It was such a moving experience for our team as we walked those final steps and heard the jubilant cheers and hearty applause from all the supporters waiting at the Georgia World Congress Center finish line. Those of us who took on this challenge were all tired with sore feet and aching legs. However, just as we shared the fatigue, there was a shared sense of accomplishment that will always rank among the top achievements in my life.

My hope for the future is that a cure for breast cancer will be found in my lifetime.

Kathryn Carlson is a nurse practitioner at Winship Cancer Institute.

Why did I walk?
This is my second Breast Cancer 3 Day to participate in and lead. I am a nurse practitioner at Winship Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer, and I chose to walk each year in honor and support of every woman who has fought her battle with breast cancer. I am also walking for my grandmother and great aunt who both are ovarian cancer survivors, and another great aunt who is a breast cancer survivor. Each day, I am inspired by the strength and courage that my patients demonstrate despite what the day may have brought them: nausea, fatigue, pain. They continue to fight for themselves and for each other. They form friendships and support each other through survivorship and end-of-life issues. They become advocates for breast cancer research and form support groups and attend research meetings. They walk 60 miles for themselves and for others!

What did I learn from the walk?
The weather was certainly not agreeable on the first day of the walk, leaving us all cold, wet and grumpy. In spite of the tough weather conditions, we continued to walk for our sisters, as a symbol of the adversity that many have experienced through treatment. I felt that walking 60 miles was only a small demonstration of what my patients have to face and overcome on a daily basis. The other days of the walk, I interacted with many people including some Emory colleagues walking with different teams, some of my patients, and walkers from throughout the Southeastern states.

My hope for the future is that more Emory colleagues will walk with the WCI Team next year. Our small mighty team of seven felt great about taking on this incredible challenge together. At the finish line, our team hugged and reflected on our sense of accomplishment of meeting our goal for this important cause and getting the opportunity to make a difference by contributing to research funding focused on finding a cure and saving lives.