Last Sunday I walked the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure along with Sister Carol, Romina, and about 13,000 others. It was a windy, chilly morning but spirits were high and who could complain when we were surrounded by so many breast cancer survivors? The return trip after the halfway mark was uphill and into the wind and my feet were really bothering me by the time we made it back to the stadium for the closing ceremonies. I’ve been meaning to get new walking shoes for several months because my toes were crunched in the ones I bought just last year. I tried to just “offer it up” in gratitude for having the gift of life and health to participate in the Komen walk at all. My own diagnosis of ovarian cancer was made the day after we walked it in February 2008.
On Monday afternoon David, the husband of a woman whom Carol and I accompanied through her last months of ovarian cancer, brought the last bags of Susan’s clothing to our house. We had been distributing them to the women at our project in Mexico. Sorting through her things that David had piled into black plastic bags brought memories of Sue, a willowy artist who loved clothing of natural fibers and earth tones. They carried aromas of essential oils. One bag was full of soft pajamas and nightgowns and baggy pants with drawstring waists. As I folded them I knew that this wardrobe reflected the changes in her body and what was most comfortable as the disease progressed.
I also discovered that Sue really liked shoes: “crocs” and tennies and ballet flats and pointy black lace-ups and hiking shoes. Not a single pair of pumps though! Carol pulled out some that had some mud in the treads. “Remember they took a trip to Ruidoso not long before she was homebound…” We agreed that they were a great pair of shoes, almost new, and Carol’s size. I said that I thought Sue would be happy for Carol to have them. “You walked very closely with her those last months.” So she cleaned them up, planning to take them on her trip to New Orleans this week.
But guess what? Though they were only marked size 9 they were too big for Carol. “Why don’t you try them on?” she said. As I slipped my feet into the shoes I knew they would be perfect. And they were. So as took my walk through the cotton fields the next day I was wearing Sue’s shoes. I felt an intense surge of gratitude: for the privilege of having known her, for her generous sharing of her last days and months, for the courage and dignity and acceptance she witnessed for us, and for the health and strength I feel at this time in my own journey. I walked like so many Race for the Cure participants who wore bright pink signs on their backs “In memory of…” I walked for Sue- and for me.