A friend on the 3-Day

I could write about any number of poignant experiences in the last 12 years of my life.

For Abby, I choose to write about how I met her sister.

My friend Julie did the Komen 3-Day in my honor 11 years ago. It took several years, but I got the bug and decided to walk to celebrate my 11th year of being a survivor and my 45th birthday. At a training walk in Chicago in 2008, I met Sandi Smith. Sandi suffers from MS, but was determined to do the 3-Day (she's also a Triathlete!!) Sandi and I became tent-mates and dear friends.

And then I meet Abby, Well, not directly, obviously. I was in line for the medical tent on Saturday night to have my feet wrapped when I struck up a conversation with Deb. We hit it off immediately. We're both from Western New York! She told me about Abby. I was sad for her, but after we talked a while we found ourselves laughing hysterically! We had a great chat and I knew I made a friend.

I left Deb that evening with the promise that we would find each other. Sunday was warm and bright and wonderful and I thanked God for kinesiology tape! We spent the day walking to and along Lake Michigan. After 3 days of Gatorade, I remember sing a pop stand right before our last lunch stop, Diet Pepsi! I think I bought pop for the 10 people in line behind me. I looked for Deb at lunch: I was becoming concerned I would not see her. I was carrying a business card, which by now was soggy with sweat. As Sandi and I were heading out, I heard someone call my name. Deb. We hugged and I quickly shoved my soggy business card in her hand. I promised to find her at the end.

As I approached the finish line (Soldier Field was a beautiful sight I must say and this from a Bills fan!!) I saw Deb's family. I stopped briefly and introduced myself. In typical "Laura" fashion, I was compelled to run across the finish line with Sandi picking up all the stuff I was dropping along the way! Sandi went to meet her husband Bill. I was alone in a sea of people. My phone rang. It was my best friend Mary Beth. She told me she and Michael had come to be there with me! I lost it. After making a plan where to meet after closing ceremonies, I went to stand along the "finish line" and cheer in my fellow walkers. Then I saw Deb, carrying Abby's picture as she had done so proudly for 3 days. I called to her and she came to me and fell into my arms sobbing. We cried together; for Abby, for me, from the physical and emotional exhaustion. I told her she needed to go, to finish the journey. I didn't see her again that day. As a matter of fact, I have not seen her since.

Walkers, volunteers, the "Pink Panthers," etc. entered the closing ceremony area. We survivors joined hands and walked in last. Everyone was holding up one shoe. I've never seen anything like it, never felt anything like it. It was the single most moving event of my life.

It took me a week to recover physically, months to feel emotionally "normal."

I am forever changed. By cancer. By the people I have met because of cancer. By Deb. By Abby-Jill. By losing my own sister to ovarian cancer 2 years later. I am comforted by the belief that Judy and Abby have met in heaven and are watching over us, cheering our every step. Deb and I are connected on a cellular level in the way friends who share a common history and a common goal. I am forever grateful that I walked that weekend and that I met her. and in 2 weeks I will compete in my first Half Ironman triathlon. That, my friends, is what breast cancer cannot do.