Good morning. I’m walking my first Avon Walk because I want to share my story of survival. Even with no family history, I found a lump while in the shower that turned out to be breast cancer. I thought I was going to die. But I remembered people like my dance instructor Luigi. He was told he’d never walk again after an accident when he was 21. But he used dance to climb back into life and now he’s still going at 85. So my team this weekend is named “Never Stop Moving” because that’s what Luigi always says. And that’s what we all need to do to beat breast cancer. [PAUSE] My name is Melissa Canaday, from the East Village, and I’m a 1-year breast cancer survivor. I’m in it to end it for me and for every other person battling breast cancer, young and old, across the country and around the world.
The crowd erupts in all the places you find yourself thinking you'd applaud or cheer. Then Eloise takes the mic and breaks it all down for us. Why we must walk, what our mission is, how close we are to a complete victory. And then she tells the crowd that during the walk a crew member may walk up to you and hand you a pink ribbon sash to wear and that you mush wear it for the duration of the walk. And that the 6 speakers will now receive a ribbon because in the time it took to do this opening ceremony 6 women or men have been told, "I'm sorry, you have Breast Cancer." Every Three Minutes People! Every 3 minutes a person is told they have breast cancer. What must we do to stop it. That is too many people. So Eloise bedecks Lisa who in turn hangs the next ribbon around Willy, who then drapes a ribbon around Tina who then turns to me and gently smiles and places the ribbon around my neck and grabs my hands in hope. My heart grips and the tears well up because now, I have to turn to Olivia (the young teen) and hang a ribbon around her neck, who then does the same to John. Then slowly Eloise asks those who have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer to raise their hands. Next, family members who know someone they love whose been diagnosed, and finally friends of someone diagnosed with breast cancer. The entire pier is awash with hands glowing in the breaking of dawn and tears run down many a face, and then I see Ed Cathy, Ian and Joaquin standing together, hands held high and I fight back the tears because the emotion is so overwhelming. WE then all take hands united in one mighty cause and head out to the 26 mile day.
High on the moment I rush to my family and give Joaquin a big hug. So happy that he actually found us in this mob. Out we head onto the route, slapping high fives to everyone along the edges of the route. It wasn't until we were almost to the 1 mile mark, that I realized I had left my backpack behind. I rushed backward through the crowd yelling "I forgot my back pack, sorry. My back pack, left behind." Ian in his lanky body came from behind me and said not to worry he'd run ahead to fetch it. There it was on the ground looking like a lump of grey material amongst the pipes and drapings and sound boxes. Ian ran easily towards me and together we headed out once more at a power walk pace to catch up with the crowd. Once I had found Cathy and Joaquin I slowed my pace and enjoyed the sunrise as it began to kiss the air around us, bouncing off the glass of skyscrapers in NJ and causing a stark contrast against the darkly clouded sky. The Hudson River gleamed and the willow trees gracefully danced in the wind. The last leg of my Breast Cancer Journey had begun, and it was a beautiful day.
We came to the first of many rest stops along the way, and to greet us was a Broadway Theater Themed stop. The Phantom of the Opera greeted us with a pink mask and pink satin lined cloak and shirt. Port-a-johns lined the route and the line was already fierce. We opted to move on. With Ed and Ian now gone, it fell to Never Stop Moving to carry on. So on we went taking pictures along the way of every mile marker with the exception of mile 2. Somehow we had missed it. We started to climb and Cathy started to fall behind, needing food no doubt since we really hadn't had much. Joaquin with the joyful energy of a boy half is age offered to carry Cat piggyback more than once. Cat would laugh at him and promptly turn him down. Our walk took us through such beauty that New Yorkers don't really take advantage of . I marveled at how wonderful this island really is. Once we moved into the neighborhoods the children were the ones that really spurred me on. The happy faces with fists full of stickers to hand out. Homemade signs with Markers that smudged and lot of glitter, and those smiles. How could one not find energy in those smiles and high fives. The day seemed to fly by, and soon we were at a park having lunch, sitting on a curb with apples and sandwiches. We were behind and I really wanted to get to the Wellness Village since Dr. J was there waiting to adjust me and make sure my hip and lumbar were okay. Cathy agreed to let me move on so I did, and soon Joaquin joined me, his long frame could no longer take going slow. Together we wove through the traffic of Pink and made up more than 20 of the 45 minutes we were behind, always certain to stop and take mile pictures along the route. When arrived down near City Hall, there was Cathy. She had jumped on one of the vans and hitched a ride to meet us. Together we faced Cathy's fear of heights on bridges as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. Cathy was afraid, but in the end the Bridge befriended her because or the construction on the bridge a whole section was walled off so you couldn't see the River below. With that under our belts we took a small break in the park in DUMBO and spoke with several women who joined us in walking back across the Manhattan Bridge. Cathy opted for a Van, having too soon faced the Brooklyn Bridge, and who could blame her; her fear was real. I met Graziella and Blondin the former a New Yorker, young and as pretty as her name originally from Brazil, and the latter from the Sacramento, CA area who came to New York to walk in this Event for her New York friend who has just found out she has had a recurrence of Breast Cancer in her lung. We all walk for our special reasons, the whys are all a part of a bigger piece, it's the getting there that matters. We soon meet up with Ian as we passed through our neighborhood and we told him to walk like he belonged on the route and to keep his wrists hidden because he lacked an ID bracelet. As we walked I found out just why Joaquin had somehow found us. His mother had no insurance and no means to pay for treatment and if it had not been for the Avon Foundation his mother would have had no other choice than to do nothing and die. Joaquin was an answered prayer. Like an angel he appeared out of nowhere, and delivered to me that woman I was fighting for. That one woman who couldn't afford health insurance and made too much to get public assistance. I had been given a name and a face to walk for. So for all the people who donated to me, we raised over $10,700 for Vivanna to have treatment and to hear those words we all long to hear, "Congratulations! You, are cancer free!"
As we approached the final two miles there was Cathy again waiting for us to cross that final bridge of the day. I still felt so full of energy and seeing Cathy only fueled my resolve to finish with a big smile on my face. With Ian and Cathy by my side and our new found Angel Joaquin we pushed forward with joy! One last time of the long day I danced once again with a man who jumped from stop to stop with his boom box and danced with as many walkers as would let him. I leapt with excitement to see him once again, the Last Dance of the day. He always lifted my spirits and encouraged me on. As we rounded the corner on the palisade we saw the bridge to Randall's Island looming against the horizon. Long and Tall, green against the Bright blue sky, the bridge it loomed there as the final obstacle for Cathy to overcome. Cathy confessed that she didn't know if she could do it. Joaquin and I were certain that she could. I took her hand as we approached the entrance to the bridge and I told her that she had already crossed one bridge and this only had people on it, no cars, trucks or trains. WE stepped on the bridge and started forth, Cathy began to falter in her faith that she could go that final mile and then I said, take my arm, take Joaquin's and together we will chant our way across the bridge. So there we were, me chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo loudly, Cathy chanting in her head, and Joaquin wondering what these two crazy ladies were doing, while Ian had gone ahead laughing to himself at how ridiculous we looked and sounded. But I didnt' care, I had a mission to get Cathy across that bridge, a symbol of breaking through for both of us. 2/3 of the way over Cathy relaxed and let go of my hand and said, "I'm okay now. I'm not afraid anymore." She had done it. Faced down that fear and sent it packing. We were like Dorothy, The Scarecrow, the TinMan, and the Lion heading down the Yellow Brick Road toward Oz to find rest, food, and medical care. We entered the Wellness Village all in good spirits and headed to the Chiropractor tent in search of Dr. J!
There he was, Dr. J doing his magic on the walkers lucky enough to get him. Did they know how good he was, and what really great hands they were in? I did. We caught his eye and then waited for the day's tension to be released. A big hug from Dr. J was the beginning of treatment followed by a great adjustment. We spoke for a bit and then headed out to set up our tents before the sun set. We found our bags and Ian carried them to our spot C 083. I found a tent and from there, we were lost as to how to put it up. It took a while to figure it out, but the biggest problem was that we didn't have stakes to hold the tent from blowing away and were missing the center bar. Once we had that problem solved I went to change into my Uggs. I opened my bag and .... no Uggs. No Uggs anywhere! Crap! I had taken them out to run something downstairs to Ed on Friday morning and forgot to put them back in the bag. My poor feet really needed the soft cradle of wool to caress and ease the aches away. Now I was stuck having to wear the second pair of sneakers that were more broken in so a bit wider. That is when the pinkies let it be known they were NOT happy. I didn't even remove my socks because if I had I knew I'd have to go to the Medical tent. Something I refused to do.
WE ate spaghetti and meatballs with greenbeans and salad and enjoyed the wacky entertainment of the evening. The Youth Crew performed along with extro-verted women who only needed a karioki machine and a mic. The music was loud, and we were tired. WE headed to our tents and as the temperature fell so did our lids and soon we were asleep, and soon the raft I blew up deflated and I woke to the hard hard ground. I discovered the plug had come out, so I blew it up again and fell easily asleep once again only to wake around 4am to a flat raft. I gave up went to the port-a-johns and returned and took out that beach towel I hadn't used at the shower I couldn't find and folded it up under my hips and tried to get another 2 hours of sleep.
My rooster on my cell phone crowed at 6am sharp, and slowly Cathy and I moved our sore and aching bodies into the freezing morning air. While Cat went to the bathroom and to brush her teeth I chanted for protection for the final 13.1 miles. Soon our gear was packed up and the tent had been broken down and folded up. We headed to the Mess Tent and loaded up on Eggs sausage and potatoes. I even grabbed some oatmeal. Glad I did, because the eggs were cold and the potatoes unedible. So I dug into the oatmeal only to taste the bland paper mache flavor of gooey oatmeal. With no cinnamon to spice things up, I sucked it up and remembered that when I was a kid at camp, the food didn't taste like mom's either, so why would oatmeal taste like Ed's? We fueled up on fresh cut melon and strawberries and green tea, filled our water bottles and searched for Joaquin. Not being able to find him anywhere we decided that maybe he got up early and had left ahead of us flirting with a cute young walker. Afterall, why spend time with two middle-aged married ladies when he had a whole ocean to fish in? We got across the bridge and Cathy even rose above all expectations and posed on the bridge clearly showing she was well over the water. I was so proud of her. Once across the bridge I asked if she'd mind if I went on ahead, I felt behind and knew that if I didn't move quickly I'd never be able to make it later. We hugged and off I pushed through the thickness of Pink everything and soon was swallowed up from view of Cathy. I met my dancing man and cut a quick rug with him and moved on. There were whole stretches of pavement that left me to my own. On these stretches I would chant outloud and found myself walking in rhythm with the Universe. I was truly cooking with gas now. By the time I rolled into the lunch stop I was 2 1/2 hours ahead of schedule. So I found some pavement in the playground, took off my shoes and stretched my tired aching legs and feet. Shared stories with women and as always inspired by what I heard. I made a call to Cathy and heard she was 1 1/2 miles from lunch so I decided to hang and wait for her. just as I had decided that Joaquin must have been an angel to help us on the front 26, there he was, looking for me saying, "Have you seen a lady in a pink cape with short hair and pink stripes?" So happy to have found each other, others might have thought we were long lost family reunited after a decade of seperation. We took care of our blisters and waited for Cathy. My phone was dying and had to be turned off and on as needed. Once we found Cat we looked for our names on the banner we had signed the day before. We took pictures and realized that we were losing steam fast, so we pushed onward to the final 6 miles of the walk.
What is 6 miles on any given day? Why that was nothing to me, I could walk up to Lincoln Center take an hour and half dance class and walk home. That was 8 miles not including the dance class. 6 Miles was easy, but not today. teh muscles were beginning to feel fatigue. The more electrolyted water I drank or carbs I ate didn't matter after a point. The mind was willing but the body was beginning to argue the point. We tried to stay with Cathy but she was the first to slow down and it became "Go on, save yourself." So Joaquin and I stuck together and the route became quiet with walkers lost in themselves. Even our wacky zany personalities became introspective and the real reason we both walked perked to the service. For Joaquin thoughts of how lucky his mother was to have found support throught the Avon Foundation, and for me, so many reasons, the first being my emancipation from Mr. Lumpy. One year free of Breast Cancer, one herceptin treatment away from the end of it all. One year old scars being the only thing I feel when I touch the spot where Mr. Lumpy was evicted. For Cheryl and Ruth who fight on as survivors. For my friends who have friends struggling, and for the memories of Lynne Redgrave and most importantly Beverly Ruby who fought with everything she had to the bitter end of her life.
The cure seems so close and yet we lose steam just as we do at the end of the walk and somehow that disease sneaks away. We come so close to catching it. If only we could find a way to get ahead of this beast and cut it off at the pass. Someday, I know in my heart, from the core of my being, we will find a cure, so our daughters and grand-daughters will never have to fear those words, "I'm so sorry, the biopsy came back, and you have Breast Cancer".
The last mile was the most difficult, legs leaden down with exhaustion, and wondering how I could make it, the cheering began and the signs and cowbells and pom-poms shaking and even though I was mentally numb, I found a burst of energy to plow forward. I saw the finish line and then my son, Ian emerged from the crowd holding his Kung Fu Staff and came onto the route and gave me a great big hug. I held him tightly. This was why I fought so hard for an entire year. This young boy who had suddenly turned into a young man. Tall and handsome, full of compassion and love. Joaquin's mother found him and rushed to him for that welcoming hug. There we were a photo negative with the same mission. We introduced Ian to Joaquin's mama, and got our t-shirts (mine said Survivor) and drank water and hug more and took pictures and soon Cathy was with us laughing and all smiles because today, she did the entire 13.1 miles, and that was truly something to be proud of . Johnny, Cat's husband soon entered our circle and hugs and kisses were shared. WE all had accomplished more than we expected over those two days, strength found deep within, fears overcome, the bound made between three people that only we can understand.
Soon, the time came to close the day, so I joined the women survivors and held the banner and marched in towards the stage to cheers and loud music. Once there a Production assisstant whisked me backstage adn then I followed Suze Orman and once again stood before the now tired warrior walkers, crew, and volunteers. I stood for felt like forever drinking in this moment. A moment that has no words, even for me, and then I spoke. I gave my story and knew that everything that had happened over the past year, good or bad, lead me to this moment.
"Good afternoon fellow Walkers, Crew, family and friends. My name is Melissa Canaday. I’m a proud resident of the East Village and I am a 1-year breast cancer survivor.
My family: my husband, my son, my daughter and me – are all actors. We work in all different areas of the entertainment industry, and my daughter is lucky enough to star on a well-known television show. We all know how to step out of ourselves and into the character – and the life – of someone else. That skill was important when I discovered a lump while in the shower. I had no family history of breast cancer. But I knew. As I slumped to the floor of the shower and let the tears flow over me mixing with the hot water, I saw myself from the outside in, just as I would when learning a new role.
But this wasn’t a play or a movie. It was my life. After sonograms, mammograms and biopsies, I got the voicemail from my doctor as I came up from the subway in midtown. I was with my husband and the first thing I thought was “Oh my God, I’m going to die.” I was in that dire and dark place for two hours when my doctor called me back and said, “Have you cried for the past couple of hours? I said yes. And she said “OK, now it’s time to pick yourself up and get to work. Now it’s time to start fighting.” I said I don’t know how to take care of me. She said “What if this was happening to your daughter?” I said I’d fight like hell. She said “Well, fight like hell for yourself.” And that’s what I decided to do.
I’ve used every weapon possible to fight this disease, from my Buddhist chanting to innovative new radiations. Laughter and humor were also key to me getting through this rollercoaster of an existence. Chemo caused me to lose my hair right around Halloween so I decided to shave it all off and trick-or-treat through the East Village as Britney Spears in full crisis mode. [PAUSE] Not surprisingly, that look doesn’t turn a lot of heads in the East Village.
As someone who is used to taking care of everyone else, I was stunned to learn just how many people wanted to take care of me. I met a whole new community of survivor sisters on-line and got invaluable advice, love and support from women around the country I’d never met. My daughter wanted to quit her show and come 3,000 miles home, but I convinced her to be strong for me in California. My sweet son would shop for us when my husband was performing on the road and then would snuggle with me and do his homework in my bed. And even after a triple lumpectomy, my husband has proven that he loves me no matter how many scars I may bear.
I initially registered for this Avon Walk for me, but I quickly learned that my survival is a gift; an opportunity to inspire hope by sharing. This weekend I walked for a lot of people, like my online friend and confidante Beverly, who lost her battle in Chicago this spring. And I also walked for that single mom who is scared out of her mind because she doesn’t have insurance, and doesn’t know how she’ll support her kids. I walked so I could reach down and help her off the floor of her shower and tell her that there is a way out. And this weekend I walked 39.3 miles because of all the roles I’ve played in my life, the most important role may be that of a money-raising, early detection-preaching breast cancer survivor. [PAUSE]
Because of what we’ve all done this weekend, there is help and hope for that single mom and so many others like her throughout this great city and around the country. " and then I broke from the script and told how I had met Joaquin and put a face and a name to the woman we raised money for. That this person we see in our hearts really exists. So know that you do make a difference and it is huge! Then I moved back to the script...
"To tell you more about how the dollars we raised will be put to good use right here, right now, please welcome Avon Foundation board member and our fellow walker, the President of Avon Products North America, Geralyn Breig."
This was a mind blowing moment as the checks were handed out to the so many deserving organizations that reach out to that woman on the floor of her shower sobbing because she thinks her world has come to a screeching halt, and doesn't know what she'll do.
So I'll leave you with this, we DO make a difference, your $5 donation or $10,000 donation it all is equal in the eyes of those in need and those who work tirelessly to help, every single penny counts. So do the walk, or work behind the scenes or simply donated what you can. 5,000 women and not one moment of "Drama", that speaks to how seriously we take this mission. WE Can All Be In It To End It.
I'm walking again next year, and I learned a lot about what I need to do to be better prepared. So I'm doubling down. I raised $10,700.00 so I'll be shooting for $21,400.00. Start a coin bottle, have a garage sale or yard sell, bake sell, and donate it and I promise I'll make every single dollar I raise worth more than every step I take.
Be well, and picture me with Ian's Kung Fu STaff saying in my Pink SGI Cape:
"I have been on the Walk and there is a new commandment handed down and it is this.
Thou shalt feel thy titties once a month!"
Light and Love