April 12, 2002: a very dark day in my life. The one person that meant everything to my existence on planet earth was no longer there. Breast cancer got the better of my beloved mom Nalini and I would no longer feel her warm hug or hear her loving words.
Many experience the loss of a loved one each day, it is a process of life – but my loss felt different. Had my mom undergone early detection and timely treatment, it might have been preventable. It was the lack of awareness that made it too late.
Ever since that day, I’ve wondered what can I do to prevent others from having to go through the pain I experienced. Every 74 seconds, somewhere in the world, someone dies from breast cancer, a sobering statistic and one that I believe we can reduce. I talked to many folks and in one conversation with a neighbor, I learned about the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the 3-day 60-mile walk done across many U.S. cities to raise the awareness and funds needed for research to find new ways to treat, cure and prevent the deadly disease. My neighbor, Sarah, walked the 3- day in memory of her aunt. I made a note and pledged to walk the following year.
I talked to more family and friends and was surprised to learn that everyone knew someone diagnosed with breast cancer; the issue touched so many lives. And still, it felt like folks took it in stride, as a matter of fact, with no will to do anything to change that.
In 2008, six years after losing my mom to breast cancer, I was finally able to raise money to participate in the walk and was very fortunate to have a good friend and my mentor join me in my first ever 3-day walk. It was quite an experience to say the least. I didn’t realize what I’d gotten myself into and was not fully prepared physically to endure the 20 miles of walking per day. Emotionally, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people walking. Hearing their stories — some survivors, some still going through treatments with hope as their only remedy — made me realize that my loss was big on a personal scale but it was nothing compared to what the victims themselves were facing and the challenges they had in every step they took to finish the walk. The walk is a symbolic gesture to remind the world that so much more needs to be done while the stats and odds are against us.
By the second day of my 2008 walk, I was thinking, “I am not going to be able to finish the journey” My feet were aching; I had blisters everywhere. Every step I took was like climbing Mt. Everest. I developed a newfound appreciation for the invention of the automobile and was beginning to believe I just didn’t have it in me to finish the task.
Somehow, God must have had a different plan for me. As I contemplated quitting, I came across a boy of maybe six years holding a sign. It said in a child’s writing, “THANKS FOR WALKING SO NO ONE LOSES THEIR MOM LIKE I DID.” That image has stayed with me. I believe it will stay with me forever. Being struck by that sight, all my pain was reduced to nothing compared to the magnitude of loss that his humble and grateful message conveyed.
I have walked twice more since then, and am committing to walk in 2020. Because no child should ever have to lose his mom. No one should ever have to ever lose their sister. No other husband should lose a loving wife. Early detection and treatment have been proven to save lives. We all have the power to change and help.
I also walk for all of my friends and family who are survivors — thankfully, the list is long. I say a prayer for those loved ones who have lost their battle with breast cancer. And I will not end my journey until I reach my destination: a world without breast cancer.
by Aashir Patel