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First Person

Walk to Fight Breast Cancer Is an Emotional Journey

November 02, 1998|DEBORAH KATTLER KUPETZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On Oct. 23-25, Deborah Kattler Kupetz of Los Angeles, 37, was one of 2,300 people who walked--yes, walked--from Santa Barbara to Malibu to raise money for breast cancer awareness and early-detection programs. The first Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day raised $5 million. The monies are distributed through Avon's Breast Health Access Fund and administered by the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations.

Here is Deborah's story of how a walker who admittedly wasn't in the "greatest shape" a few months before the walk was inspired to go the distance, how she pushed on when she didn't think she could and how the experience has changed her.

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I have three daughters (5-year-old twins and a 3-year-old), work like a fiend and am over-involved. Taking time off for a three-day walk to fight breast cancer--a battle for which I had no personal relationship--seemed the furthest thing from my mind. When my cousin Eilean signed up and then my sister Elizabeth, I became aware of the event.

I didn't realize at the time that breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the U.S. My final impetus came from talking to my friend Bob, who had gone on the California AIDS Ride in June from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He said it was "transformational, amazing and unlike anything" he had been involved with before. I signed up in July.

I trained on my own at first, pushing myself to 10 miles. The previous eight months, my exercising had been sporadic, at best. So I wasn't in my greatest shape. Then I hooked up with a group that was training for the walk, the Divine Walkers, led by a breast-cancer survivor. My first walk with them was 25 miles!

Day 0

At Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara, we checked in, turned in late pledges, watched a safety video and received our tent assignments (a mobile tent city would be our homes each night). The video set the tone for the event. This was serious stuff: We needed to be alert, to feel great about what we had gone through to get to this point. People have died at events like these.

The safety video was about something else too, about kindness, about if people stopped trying so hard to get ahead, no one would be left behind. The 3-Day wasn't a race. We were all going to do it, and we could help each other do it.

Day 1

The first day was a blast. It started with moving opening ceremonies before dawn. Leaving Santa Barbara, we walked by beautiful homes and saw dolphins in the ocean.

Part of the reason the experience was so incredible was that I didn't see it coming. I didn't see that behind every person I would talk to would be an amazing story. That the atmosphere would induce such honesty and cooperation. This self-selected group of 2,300 was truly special, as was the support crew of some 600.

I walked with and met many people, all doing the walk for a variety of reasons--in honor of someone, in memory of someone, to support someone.

I met a woman, 28, who had found a lump in her breast last year and had a mammogram, but it was cloudy so the results couldn't be determined. At that point, she was unemployed and had no insurance.

As she waited with her father to find out the results of a second mammogram, they saw another woman who was about her age and an obvious breast cancer survivor. Her father grabbed her and started to cry. Fortunately, her doctor determined she had only fibroid cysts. Because of that, she said, she knew what it was like to face the possibility of cancer without insurance and that's why she felt she had to do the walk.

This first day, we walked some 18 miles. It was wonderful and long and tiring, but there was no whining and complaining. Still, I was really looking forward to my one-time, 15-minute massage. There were medical, physical therapy, chiropractic and massage services at the campsite each day. The chiropractic services saved me

Day 2

Even though it was the shortest day ("only" 14 miles), I hit that moment when I thought: This isn't worth it. What am I doing here? The shower trailer seemed a million miles away. I could focus only on how bad I felt. The encouraging signs around camp that had inspired me only the day before seemed annoying now. "What was the kindest thing you did for someone else today?" "What is the thing that keeps you from quitting?"

I limped to the chiropractic tent and met with the doctor in charge of the 18 chiropractors there. She did a deep massage of my legs and stretched them; she twisted me and crack, crack, did all sorts of adjustments. It was amazing how much better I felt. I wanted to kiss her I was so grateful. I was back in the game.

I want to say two words about the walk: Gatorade and chiropractors, two of the best things in life.

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