Put One Foot In Front of the Other For breast cancer survivors, walking can lead to healing – and much-needed hope
- Fri., Oct. 21, 2011
Katie Mangan was a stay-at-home mom when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer in 2009, at the age of 30.
“You know, there are no [insurance] benefits for stay-at-home moms,” says Mangan, Waukee, Ia. Unsure how she was going to pay for her treatment, help arrived in the form of friends looking for a way to ease her financial burden.
“They wanted to help offset the pay that was going to come out of our pockets,” she says. Her friends organized a 5K run/walk, and through fundraising and the help of 300 people in their community and surrounding areas, they raised $10,000 to pay her bills.
The following year, she and her husband, Tim, decided to pay it forward, raising $18,000 and giving it to four families dealing with breast cancer. Today, Mangan runs a nonprofit organization called Katie’s Crusaders, that awards “scholarships” to help families meet expenses following a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Our goal this year is to raise $25,000,” Mangan says. “Last year we really didn’t know what to expect, and so we thought we were just going to play it by ear. We have a goal now.”
Breast cancer walks have become an integral part of both awareness and fundraising throughout the world. One of the most notable, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which holds more than 130 events worldwide, raised $365 million in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Walking has become the symbolic event of hope for survivors and their families.
“Everyone knows someone with breast cancer, or has a direct link to it of some sort,” Mangan says. She believes that walking, especially as a unified group, puts the power to heal and celebrate lives back into the hands – and feet – of survivors and their friends.
For some, walking – not as part of a fundraising effort, but as a solitary, daily activity – has its own healing powers.
Award-winning journalist Carolyn Scott Kortge was 58-years-old when, sitting alone in the sauna after a workout at her athletic club in Eugene, Ore., she decided to perform a routine breast exam. Kortge discovered a small, hard lump in her left breast and, that day, scheduled an appointment with her doctor. He was concerned enough to order an immediate lumpectomy.
At 5 a.m. the next day, two hours before her surgery, she took an hour-long walk and focused on her breathing, repeating silent mantras like “I’m strong,” “I’m calm,” and “I’m well.” It was an active meditation technique Kortge herself had previously extolled in her book “The Spirited Walker: Fitness Walking for Clarity, Balance, and Spiritual Connection” (HarperOne, 1998), inspired by her experiences as a competitive Masters racewalker.
“The years I spent competing taught me how the mind and body work together,” Kortge says. “Of course I was frightened that morning, but I knew that exercise would also help me to be more present, trusting and receptive.”
On April 17, 2000, Kortge received news of a relapse: Stage II breast cancer that had metastasized to the lymph nodes under her left arm. As a consequence, she would need further treatment, including eight chemotherapy treatments and six weeks of radiation. Kortge was crushed, confused and terrified. “It took me a little while to believe the diagnosis was real,” she says.
Over the next three days, she walked a lot in her favorite spots and finally came to the realization that by writing “The Spirited Walker,” it was almost as if she’d created a guide for herself on how to make it through her cancer experience: Keep your feet on the ground, take one step at a time and keep moving forward.
Kortge did exactly that, walking every single day throughout her treatment, even if it was just one mile. In addition, she modified her already healthy diet the best she could to support treatment, including limiting red meat and saturated fat, giving up her beloved wine and cutting out all soy products. Thanks to her good health, Kortge’s oncologist was able to give her the type of aggressive chemotherapy that they would normally give to younger people, and she never needed the expensive
Kortge credits her commitment to walking for the fact that she is now in her eighth year of remission. She currently walks three or four miles a day, six days a week, lifts weights and is working on a second book called “Healing Walks for Hard Times” (Shambhala, 2010).
“Some of my acquaintances in the cancer world would say that these opportunities to walk and teach are ‘gifts’ that I have received from cancer, but this is no gift,” Kortge says. “It’s an earned benefit. I’m not grateful for cancer, but I’m also not willing to pretend it never happened.
For Mangan, the opportunities in front of her are to appreciate life and help others through her fundraising walk, which is set to take place October 8 in Waukee, Ia.
“My girls were four and 11-months when I was diagnosed,” she says. “After I lost all of my hair, I let them paint my bald head. We used my bald head as a canvas for finger painting! Just moments like those. Cherish them. I used laughter to get me through it all.
As for her cancer, Mangan has a clean bill of health.
“And I have all of my hair back, too. In fact, my six-year-old asked me, ‘Do you think we could cut all your hair off and paint your head again?’”
© CTW Features