Bright and early Sunday morning, my dad and I did the Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk -- our first time walking it together!
Dad did the walk in 2001, but under very different circumstances. It was the inaugural year of the walk, and he was alongside my mom, Sally, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before. Sadly, it was their first and last walk. After battling the disease for two-and-a-half years, she passed away the following year.
Nearly a decade later, I finally got up the courage to do the walk. It was 2011, the year leading up to my wedding, and the walk was a way to honor my mom and grieve her absence leading up to my big day. My groom Mark and maid-of-honor Laura walked alongside me, readying me to walk down the aisle. It was a moving and memorable day.
So when Dad asked if I wanted to walk it together this year, I was eager to do it again. Even though the loss of my mom was so devastating, she has smiled upon us over the past few years. My dad is happily remarried to my wonderful stepmom, Susan. Mark and I just celebrated our two-year anniversary. And to top it off, this year I finally completed the memoir that Mom and I started writing together when she was sick. I knew Dad and I were in a good place to experience the event together.
The morning started with Erasure. On the drive to Jones Beach, Dad blasted our favorite hits ("A Little Respect," "Blue Savannah"), the same way he used to when picking me up from playdates. We sang along, remembering all the lyrics, and I felt just like a kid again.
Our singing only stopped once we pulled into our parking spot and realized that the car in front of us had a Connecticut license plate -- Sally's home state. We had just been relaying recent dreams we had of Sally (Dad's the night before, mine a couple weeks ago), and this felt like yet another welcome visit from her.
Arriving at the event, we checked in, donned our t-shirts, and filled out our bibs that we were walking in honor of Sally. At Dad's nudging, we even made a team poster and took a team photo for Sally's Circle -- despite only being a small team of two!
Photo courtesy of Ben Asen
As the race kicked off at 9:30am, Dad and I held hands as we crossed the start line, and didn't let go for several minutes. We were moved and thinking of Sally, and yet cheerful. For this I give credit to the wonderful event organizers. Despite there being so few pancreatic cancer survivors (most patients pass away within months), the Lustgarten Foundation strives and succeeds at throwing an upbeat and positive event that brims with hope -- hope for the surviving family members, hope for scientific advances like screenings, and most of all hope for a cure.
Sunshine beaming down on us, a cloudless blue sky ahead of us, and the ocean only a glimpse away, Dad and I walked on, pausing to take a photo and visit with our photographer friend Ben Asen, who has been shooting the event for twelve years in honor of his father who passed of pancreatic cancer. It made the event even more special to see a smiling, familiar face. And, of course, he and Dad traded stories of their favorite and most famous rock concert experiences (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Who).
Photo courtesy of Ben Asen
Soon it became like any other walk Dad and I have taken--and many were taken along the beach after Mom died. We chatted about everything and nothing: checking in on all the family members, pointing out repairs done since Hurricane Sandy, commenting on the gorgeous weather after yesterday's rain. We paused midway to enjoy the beach view before completing the three-mile trek.
Making our way back, we again held hands as we crossed the finish line, and hugged once we actually crossed. We learned that 8,000 people had walked with us and more than $1 million had been raised ($1,500 of which was donated by our amazing family and friends!). We felt so honored to be part of this wonderful event.
"I can see why people do this once and then continue to come every year," Dad said. I agreed.
So although it took us twelve years after Mom's death to do the walk together, we now plan to make it an annual thing--with guests! My stepmom Susan and my brother Jordan have already volunteered, and I bet we can recruit Mark and Laura. Who else is in? Team Sally's Circle 2015!