Last Sunday I did something for the first time in my 30+ years of living in New York: I walked for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. I am incredibly fortunate in that the long tentacles of this dread disease have up till now only reached me indirectly. A dear friend of a close friend passed away this August. She was 35 when first diagnosed. She changed her eating habits, her environment, took up yoga — yet nine years later the insidious cells returned. My friend was devastated by the loss. When she formed a team to walk for the ACS, it only seemed right to join her.
Central Park was a mass of seething bodies and the walk was more like a shuffle. My first impression was of how much fun we all seemed to be having even though reminders abounded of why we were doing what we were doing. Some were somber: people wearing signs saying “I am walking in memory of…” The change of one word made me want to cheer: “I’m walking in honor of…” Other reminders had to make one smile. “Big n’ small, we love ’em all”. “Save 2nd base, save 2nd base!” “Who loves boobies? We love boobies”. All these chanted by fresh-faced teenagers strategically positioned along the 5-mile walk.
My second impression was how diverse the crowd was. Every ethnicity of New York seemed to have formed its own team, as well as any major corporation one could name. Couples pushing strollers jostled with elder folks who were continually overtaken by school kids. What heartened me is the number of men present — a true indication that women alone are not fighting this disease. “I stare only because I care,” read the T-shirt on a well-muscled chest. Hmm, not sure of that one.
My third impression was how well the event was run and legions of volunteers organized. As a fund-raising/communications executive who has put on countless events, I had to admire all that must have gone on behind the scenes to ensure a safe and smooth experience.
So, what did all this accomplish? According to an email from the ACS that arrived a few days later, 35,000 walkers raised more than $2.65 million. The email didn’t say what exactly the money would be used for. There is a debate going on between those who say the “pinking of America” is taking the focus away from finding a cure, and those who argue that raising awareness is a necessary step toward eliminating the devastating effects of the disease, even as we wait for its eradication.
This is the final impression I was left with. The walks, the runs, the NFLers wearing pink — they make the living feel better. In the face of a disease that we cannot yet control, there is a comfort in doing something, anything that is within our power. I can show up, I can walk 5 miles, I can buy a pink ribbon, I can contribute — all modest efforts, but multiplied by hundreds of thousands, a force to reckon with. I walked in memory of a woman I didn’t know. God willing, I’ll be able to do the same next year.