Saturday, September 6, 2008

Walking with Mario Lemieux... and my Grandma.

This week, I will undertake one of the most grueling events in my life. I will walk 60 miles to help raise money for and awareness of breast cancer research. I am taking part in the Breast Cancer 3 Day Walk in Seattle. And the reason I signed up for this physically demanding quest?

My Grandma. And Mario Lemieux.

My Grandma, Alma Christine Ring, was a big, loving woman. She raised six boys: Frank, Joe, John, Jimmy, Tommy and Eddie. She was quick with a quip and made the best pot roast I’ve ever eaten, or will ever eat. She swore (always accidentally, like this time: We’re walking to Mass and Grandma steps in a pile of dog poop. Grandma: “Oh, shit!” Me (straight faced): “Yep, that’s exactly what you stepped in, Grandma.” We ended up linking arms and laughing the rest of the way to church). She made farina for breakfast every morning (that’s Cream of Wheat to you and me). She never missed an episode of “As The World Turns.” She believed that after dinner coffee should never be served without a healthy slice of Entenmanns’s coffee cake (the kind with the cream cheese in the middle). She loved John Denver and always asked my sister Karen and me to sing for her. Her favorite song was “Annie’s Song.” She encouraged me to never stop dreaming. She encouraged me to always keep writing. She gave me permission to use her maiden name for my pen name. I used it on my first novel.

I watched Grandma whittle away to nearly nothing over a several year period. She said her doctor told her she had an ulcer and to take Mylanta every day. She had a cabinet stocked with those teal blue bottles. When the pain became too bad, she went to another doctor. It turned out, she had cancer. It was everywhere and there was nothing they could do. They closed her up. She died months later. I sang “Annie’s Song” at her funeral. Then threw myself on top of her coffin.

This was in 1986. In 2006 I found out that Grandma hadn’t died of stomach cancer. That she’d had breast cancer. She’d undergone a double mastectomy in the 70’s. But the cancer came back, and finally claimed her. In 2006, at age 42, I made my first mammogram appointment.

Mario Lemieux became my favorite player when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 80’s. I was mesmerized by the way he played. Okay, I also thought he was quite handsome. He still makes my knees weak.

I know Mario played most of his career through all kinds of health issues. Chronic pain. Several surgeries. Cancer. Radiation. Through it all, he laced them up (or asked someone else for help lacing them up) and took the ice, again and again. Again and again, he lived up to his nickname Le Magnifique.

I have never had cancer, thank goodness. My mammograms have all come back clear. But I do live with constant back pain. I survived a bad car accident four years ago. My broken ribs healed. My crushed leg muscles regenerated. But my back has never been the same. My doctor has offered to prescribe a strong pain killer to help me through my day. I stick with Aleve, because of my past experiences with stronger “stuff”.

I signed up for the 3 Day Walk in April. I started training in July. I’m not as fast as I used to be and my endurance is not as strong as it used to be than the years before my accident, when I walked 3 miles a day. But I am walking and I know that my endurance will come back. The speed will come back.

Like anything else I’ve ever done, I find I work best when I take things one step at a time.
And so I walk. For Grandma. For Mario. For all the women I know who have battled breast cancer and won. Or lost. For the loved ones they leave behind.

But most of all, I walk for myself. And for the self that is yet to be revealed.

Who do you walk for?


  1. Wow this is a gorgeous story! Cream Of Wheat and Entenmann's, sounds like our grandma's swapped recipes for family togetherness. And you reminded me once more about how amazing Mario was. Kudos girl- I KNOW you walked ever one of those miles proudly and with love.

  2. You really do never cease to amaze with your writing. Another stellar post, and a truly admirable undertaking.

    From your story it sounds like you were very close to your grandmother. I too was very close to my grandfather, practically raised by he and my grandmother since both of my parents worked full-time. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2000, I was 12 years old so you could imagine how difficult it was to fully grasp the meaning of the diagnosis.

    Five years, three major surgeries, a coloscamy bag, and an oxygen tank later, he passed away.

    Watching him endure endless chemotherapy and radiation that served as a temporary solution to a terminal problem was beyond difficult. As i got older I gained a better understanding of, and respect for, what my grandfather was going through.

    Watching him get better for a few months, only to regress into worse stages than the previous was both confusing and frustrating.

    However, the one thing that I will always remember is that no matter how weak his body became, his spirit never faltered. He never lost his endearing sense of humor, or his love for his wife and family.

    I feel safe assuming that your grandmother was the same way.

    I didn't mean to ramble on, but I just thought it would be nice for you to hear a similar story of a loved one's battle with cancer and the admiration that they leave behind long after they are gone.

    Good luck to you in your walk, I'm sure your grandmother will be smiling down, filled with pride.

  3. I am walking next week, too. I wonder how many bloggers are walking.

  4. This post made me tear up the first time I read it after you posted it, but reading it today made me bawl, and yet smile at the same time.