Itâ€™s been said to truly understand someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes. How about walking 60?
Mitzi Brooks, a 31-year old newlywed and Lincolnton resident, was 19 years old at Haywood Community College when she met Mary Lander.
Lander was actually Brooksâ€™ professor in English and a communications course. What started out as a normal teacher/student relationship developed into a strong friendship and unbreakable bond.
In the physical sense, the bond was broken May 5 when Landerâ€™s body lost a seven-year battle with breast cancer. But the spiritual bond will never be broken.
As a friend, mentor and confidant, Lander often counseled Brooks, who chose to follow in Landerâ€™s footsteps as a teacher the same year she was diagnosed with breast cancer (1998) and she would always tell her to be positive.
Two weekends ago, Mitzi remembered Mary in a touching tribute. Before Lander went to be with her Maker, she told Brooks, last fall, if Mitzi wanted to participate in a walk, she should do the Susan G. Komen walk.
Starting at the North Lake Mall, Brooks joined with 11 members of her team on a three-day journey. To call it a â€˜walkâ€™ would be a grievous injustice.
The first day they walked 22.7 miles; the second day 23.6; and the final day 16 miles. Women and men of all different ages, colors, sexual orientations, religions and backgrounds joined together for one cause â€” to fight cancer.
On the second day, Brooksâ€™ back hurt, her feet were pounding and â€˜her knee felt like it was going to jump out of place.â€™
The physical pain she was experiencing begged her to quit.
â€œThe stretch right before lunch I wanted so badly to get on the sweeper van, which takes you to the next pit,â€ she said.
Then Maryâ€™s smiling face would pop into her mind. She looked at a picture she carried around her neck of that same smiling face and read Bible verse Isaiah 40:31: â€˜Those that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength and mount up on wings like an eagle.â€™
She pushed forward.
â€œI also thought about those days when Mary had to go through chemo, and she didnâ€™t have the option to get on a van and go to the next stop,â€ Brooks said. â€œWith any kind of cancer or disease, my walk is over in three days, theyâ€™re still on that journey,â€ she added.
Unless youâ€™ve battled cancer personally, you canâ€™t say you understand because you donâ€™t. But the walk served as a vehicle to put the fight into perspective especially to Brooks.
Mitzi crossed the finish line in Piedmont Park and was more uplifted than relieved. Her bodyâ€™s fatigue was transcended by a feeling not only of accomplishment, but knowing she had been a part of something bigger than words can express.
Twenty-five hundred people came together for the same cause and let their feet do the talking. Roughly $ 6.2 million dollars was raised to fight a disease that has affected all of their lives.
The tents they slept in, the porta-potties they used, even the 25 to 30 minutes, on average, they had to wait to take a shower â€” all was worth it.
â€œThere was a moment when it really occurred to me what I was doing and why and how much I take for granted. Iâ€™m whining about the bottom of my feet hurting, my knees, but after three days I get to come home and rest,â€ Brooks said, adding it was one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.
â€œIt really puts into perspective the path some peopleâ€™s journey puts them on.â€
Two years ago, Lander was signed up to participate in the very same walk, but was never able. Sunday, Brooks made the walk for them both.
â€œI was thinking, â€˜Mary, would really enjoy meeting these ladies (the 12-member group) and how much fun she would have hearing all of these stories,â€™ she said.
Brooks Downs and Donna Bashford, who were on the same team as Brooks, are in fact cancer survivors.
The groupâ€™s leader, Statesvilleâ€™s Sally Nix, believed this yearâ€™s was different because of the deep bonds shared and wonderful friendships made. Thatâ€™s what made it better than her previous two walks.
â€œI donâ€™t know what made it my best year, but when you walk with some really strong individuals and people who surround themselves with positive energy and faith when youâ€™re facing something so difficult it makes it easier,â€ she said.
â€œI learned about the power of people collectively and the impact when people stand up for what they believe,â€ she added.
Brooks raised $3,200 by herself, a thousand of which came from Maryâ€™s long-time husband Hal who dug up some of his wifeâ€™s plants and sold them to go towards Mitziâ€™s walk.
But walking 60 miles in tribute of a friend and carrying their memory with you each and every day is truly priceless.
Each year 211,240 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Out of that number, 40, 410 will die. While itâ€™s not widely-known, men will have 1, 600 diagnosed and a fourth will die.
Iâ€™m so proud of you Mitzi. I know Mary is too. You should be very proud of your accomplishment.– JM
For more information please visit www.komen.org, www.cancer.org or www.sallynix3day.com.
by John Mark Brooks