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Monday, October 19, 2009

Finally...

Finally I am posting again.
Finally I got to ride my bike again.
Finally I have come back down to earth so I can attempt to pull my thoughts together.

I honestly have not been able to post since my last entry. First and foremost because I was emotionally overwhelmed. The Tour de Pink was a physical feat that left me tired, and I still had a cold to recover from, but it was my heart, soul, and mind that needed to process everything. Of course it didn't help that I came home to October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is an exciting month because it shines a spotlight on my cause and gives me plenty of opportunities to talk with people, share my story, and hopefully influence them to care, to support, to have a mammogram; to touch them in some way. On the other hand, this month is exhausting. It is day after day of planning, arranging, calling, visiting, and sharing. All of those good things are draining at the same time as being exhilirating. Of course, I live this life every month. But October shines a spotlight in a special way that makes everyone else live it too. There has not been a day that has gone by that I have not longed to be back on my bike, pedaling through the hills and valleys of eastern PA with nothing but my own stamina to keep me from going faster.

To make it even harder, we returned to Minnesota to find that winter had decided to start threatening its arrival. It was snowing the day we got back and the temperature had dropped into the thirties. The leaves have been falling off of the trees while they are still green; they didn't even have time to turn their gorgeous fall colors. It feels like we are being punished for having the audacity to travel. Of course my dreams of flying on my bike through piles of crispy, colorful leaves were blown away with the sun. There was ice on the ground, a steely color to the sky that threatened snow, and worse: rain.

You can imagine the sheer joy I felt yesterday when I got back on my bike for a ride. It had warmed up into the 40s and the sky was blue. I could almost pretend that the leaves were as brightly colored as usual. I rode my usual training loop to celebrate having made the long journey. My happiness at being able to ride was tempered a little when I hit the half way mark and turned toward home. Then it really hit me: the wind. It was more than a blustery day, it was a strong headwind that put me to work and took my mind off pleasant things to focus on pedaling and moving forward instead of backward. Still, I made it home and wondered if it was my last ride of the year. I hope not, but I doubt I'll enjoy many more. A bike trainer is on the top of my list of purchases, so soon I will be moving inside to continue riding. Somehow I don't think it will be the same.

I don't really feel the need to recap what happened on the official last day of the Tour de Pink since it seems that most people saw it unfold along with me, right on television. Strangely not many people here at home saw it or are aware of what happened there. So I will tell my story, my experience for their sake. I hope those of you who have been bombarded with the tale aren't zoning out as I go on.

We were put to bed on the final night of the ride in the gloriously comfy beds of the Hilton Hotel on the corner of 56th St. and 6th Ave. in NYC. As an official Hershey's Bliss and Tour de Pink spokes-survivor I had been briefed as to how the morning would proceed. All of the riders met at an appointed time on the sidewalk in front of the hotel to bike in small groups (less than 15) to the sidewalk in front of Fox & Friends Studios in Times Square. The official spokes-survivors were told to be in the very last group to leave. That way we would be up in front of the larger group. Our duties were to:
1. Make it to the studio without incident.
2. Stand behind the man being interviewed (Mike from the Hershey Co.)
3. Smile and hold a big sign.
I believe I have made it pretty clear that all throughout the ride, I was very emotional. I was regularly shedding tears of joy. I was literally having the time of my life. My kids, my husband, my family, my friends, the survivors I have known, the people I have met, were all on my mind. But no thought was more prominent in my head than this: you are the luckiest person on earth. I am lucky to be alive. Tears, tears, tears of joy were flowing. And they were flowing that morning. I admit that I was a little sad that the ride was over. Brad agreed that he was, too. In fact we were both ready to get back on the bikes and keep going. Instead, we took our place in the large group of riders, waiting as they slowly took off through the streets. It wasn't long before it was our turn and then we had to remain very focused as we inched along through the busy morning traffic, one foot clipped into a pedal, one foot out ready to grasp the ground if necessary. Honestly, it was hair-raising. Taxi cabs and trucks came very close. Car doors opened in front of us, and we didn't know where we were going so we had to stay with the group leader even if it meant riding through a red light which surely meant a quick demise. Before long we arrived on the scene and had to maneuver our bikes through the crowd of other riders, past the balloons and I prayed that they didn't have any microphones on that caught me saying fearfully, "shit, shit, SHIT!" We made it safely, dismounted our bikes and looked for our places.

There were instructions, a complete shifting of the crowd, bright lights and suddenly someone thrust a sign into our hands. Lots of photographers were there, including one particular woman who took shot after shot. I remembered that I had gotten up early to do my hair and put make-up on (which seemed ridiculous with all my biking gear) but I was glad that I had, with Brad's encouragement. Before long, there were two TV personalities on the scene, a man and a woman, who were wearing heavy pancake make-up. Suddenly, the cameras were rolling and Mike was being interviewed. We stood and smiled, and I tried not to cry. The tears were lingering there, on the edges of my eyes.

The show went to commercial and everyone seemed to relax. I heard someone say, "Who's Alane Davis?" "That's me," I said, wondering what they wanted. "We have to get a mike on you," the young man announced matter-of-factly. Huh? "Uh, okay..." I stumbled. I turned to Lisa Frank, co-survivor-spokesperson and founder and coordinator of the Tour de Pink, and asked her "Why?" She replied that they needed someone to talk about the organization, blah, blah, blah...the next few moments were filled with stuffing a mike up my shirt and answering questions posed by the two heavily made up individuals. I chatted with the woman and she said, "You know, it just so happens that today I'm going for my mammogram." I told her that I would keep her in my thoughts all day, and I did. Beyond that, all I could think of was, the CEO of YSC is here in the crowd! Remember the Mission Statement! Don't screw up!!! And then, I could feel the tears. I couldn't stop them. Lisa said she'd tell me a joke to keep me from crying. So everytime I started to sniffle she said, under her breath just loud enough so only I could hear, "Nice tits!" It had the desired effect.

Before I had time to think again they were back from commercial. I honestly don't remember what I said. Something about being misdiagnosed at 30. Then I heard the interviewer say, "Your family is here with you." And I thought, well, yes, Brad is here with me. She said, "They wanted to be here with you." And I thought, oh, my Mom and Don must be here. That's nice. She said, "They flew all the way..." and around the corner came... Erin... and Cory... and my Mother-in-Law, Mary Ellen. Somehow, for once in our marriage Brad kept a secret.

I don't know how. It was as if the universe had been listening to my thoughts. It was as if all of those people had somehow managed to make manifest exactly what was burning in my heart throughout the whole trip: the gratitude and love I have for my kids.

The moment I was diagnosed, they were the first things I thought about.

I will never forget the day when I was sent for a mammogram. It was the day after a needle biopsy had confirmed I had cancer in my breast and lymph nodes. I was shaken to the core, and didn't want to enter the area behind the solid door with the large sign readng "no men allowed". It meant Brad had to stay behind and I was on my own. I undressed in the small booth and sat in the waiting room overwhelmed with a breaking heart, thinking of my kids. I was sent to the same waiting room as any other healthy patient, and I was the youngest one there by at least 10 years. One woman was crying because she was nervous about getting a mammogram. I tried to sit quietly in that cramped room, and not start shrieking. Honestly, I was gripped with the fear of dying. It wasn't long before I couldn't hold back the tears. The other women in the room didn't know what to think. I knew I was losing control, so I went into the dressing room. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I don't know for how long. There was a knock at the door. In came my surgeon, Dr. Mary. I had only met her the day before. She hugged me and knelt at my feet in the very cramped booth. She wanted to know why I was crying. All I could say was, "my kids". She didn't say anything, but stayed with me until I calmed down and it was time to go in for the mammogram. Of course it showed the cancer, big and clear and frightening. Suddenly the women who worked there were nice to me. They didn't make me go back in the room with the others to wait. Finally, I got dressed and went out the same door I'd come in. After that, it was true: Brad was with me every step of the way and dealt with his own fear and pain about my diagnosis. But I was alone. There was no way through but through. But all I ever thought about, all I ever wanted were my kids.

Finally...
this ride was not just about me and what I've been through.
It was about what my family has been through.
It was about all of the mornings that Brad had to wake me out of a sound sleep so he could give me a painful shot that would help my bone marrow keep producing white cells to fight infection, and keep me on my chemo schedule.
It was about the nights when I would wake in the dark, crying, and Brad would hold me and listen to me wail.
It was about the times I frightened him to death; passing out in the shower, sleeping for hours, refusing to take it easy and do what I was told.
It was about the courage it takes to love a woman completely who might turn around and die on you tomorrow, next week, or next year.

It was about the countless mornings when I watched my kids get on the schoolbus and waved goodbye to them as they smiled out the window, gripped with the irrational fear that the bus was taking them away forever.
It was about the feeling of being told by my surgeon that I was not allowed to pick up my kids while I was healing, and feeling like I was being told not to breathe.
It was about all of the little moments that have taken my breath away, made my heart skip a beat, or left a cold finger on my heart that maybe, just maybe this would be the last time I would see them dance, dress up for Halloween, feel their head on my shoulder, hear, "I love you, Mom", hear their laughter, or see them trust in my presence enough to get angry and tell me they hated me.
It was about the times that I wasn't sure I'd be around: sixteenth birthdays, prom, driver's tests, boy and girl talks, college searches, days I worried would never come that have passed swiftly or are right out of reach.

Finally...
This ride has left me with a question: "Why me?"
It isn't the first time I've asked it. I've seen and heard of countless women and men, better, braver, stronger than I who deserved just as much if not more to survive, who have had better prognosis than I...I've seen them not make it, not be granted the splendor of all that I have received. I don't know why. There isn't anything special about me. There are thousands of women just as deserving like me in the world. Why did they die, why are they dying and I get to see my kids, the greatest gifts I have ever been given, come around the corner on national TV like they'd been there, waiting for me all along.

One of the first things I said to Brad afterwards was that I felt guilty. It was bad enough that I was one of the survivor-spokespeople, one of five chosen from the rest that they kept calling "the honored survivors" as they snapped pictures of us over and over again. I felt the presence of all the other women behind me. And their husbands. And the partners, brothers, sisters, and kids who were there wondering why me and not them, too. I didn't really understand when Brad replied, "It isn't about you." (Which to me, seemed patently wrong. I mean, after all, I was crying like a baby on national tv!) He informed me that I was now the face of the cause. Let's suffice it to say I was only mildly comfortable with that. I can't even fathom what that really means! But, eventually, I understood.

Understanding didn't come until long after the cameras had turned off.

We left Fox & Friends and rode the short distance through Central Park to Tavern on the Green for brunch. I was flying high, completely blissful at what had just occurred and pinching myself to stay aware of the fact that I, Alane Davis, was riding her bike through Central Park. We met up with Erin, Cory, and Mary Ellen for a very brief breakfast. I barely had time to eat. We were compelled to say hasty goodbyes to friends we had made on the ride that now felt closer than family. We had to say goodbye to the kids since they were flying straight back to Duluth but we had to fly out of Hershey. It was incredibly hard to leave and ride back to the hotel, pack our bikes on a truck and get on the bus to Hershey. All in all, I think we were all together a total of 45 minutes.

It was a long ride to Hershey, and I was replaying everything in my head. I was still plagued with the question, "Why me?", and Brad kept answering "It's not about you." I kept checking the internet on my phone to see if I could watch the clip of the surprise. It wasn't online yet, but I kept checking every now and then. I decided to check my emai while I was at it. And there it was: the proof that it wasn't about me at all. Complete strangers were emailing me through Facebook because they had seen me on TV. There was a woman from Israel, a Catholic Bishop, a man with thyroid cancer who wanted someone to talk to, and a woman who said she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, had two kids, and didn't think she'd be alright, but after watching me she thought she would. I had to stop reading the messages after a while because it was too much to digest. But all of these people are now part of my life, part of my story, and I am part of theirs.

Finally...
it really isn't all about me.

Fnally...
I have never been so grateful. I am grateful among many things, for the gifts this experience has given me.

Finally...
I'm already in training for next year.



They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe I could have saved you the time of reading what I've written by showing you these. I think they do a pretty good job of letting you know how I feel.







1 comment:

  1. Thank you Alane. Thanks for just being who you are and sharing your thoughts. Wow, just amazing, all of it.
    And, it was good to see you at the Pagan Sunday,that Karoke was hilarious! Just glad that Brad has a good 'day job'! ha ;-) Take care!

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