By Karen Billing
Staff WriterThe first year that Rancho Santa Fe resident Lili Halmos-Myers participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, in 2005, she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The closing ceremonies were two days before her last chemotherapy treatment and she was completely bald.
“Bald, but beautiful,” her close friend Ann Sheehan said.
For the last five years, Sheehan and Halmos-Myers, both breast cancer survivors, have crossed every 3-Day finish together, often crying and always grateful that they have beat cancer one more year. This year they were selected to be honored in the Survivors’ Circle at the 3-Day’s opening ceremonies, held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Friday, Nov. 19 (organizers say about $10.6 million was raised at the San Diego event). The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure is a 60-mile walk for women and men “who want to make a personal difference in the fight against breast cancer.”
Halmos-Myers beat triple negative, stage IIIA breast cancer after what she calls her “year of inconvenience.” Sheehan first survived breast cancer 15 years ago, this year it returned and she learned it had metastasized to her liver and lungs. But she has beat it again and has no evidence of disease. Her hair is still coming back from treatment, looking stylish in a dark pixie cut. For the walk she donned a blonde wig and pink-embellished cowboy hat that matched Lili’s. Just a few weeks ago she learned her sister has also been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Halmos-Myers and Sheehan were part of a 19-person group who calls themselves “Babes 4 Boobs,” all wearing pompoms on their shoes made by Halmos-Myers’ mother. The two survivors wore shirts that read “I sleep with N.E.D.,” meaning no evidence of disease. Although Halmos-Myers has walked in the 3-Day for five years, she had never gone to the opening ceremonies before.
“Opening ceremonies in my mind was just a way to get hyped up and I didn’t need to be told why we walk. As a survivor, I know why we walk,” she said.
The ceremony caught her by surprise, being a far more more emotional experience than she expected, standing in a circle with eight other survivors, surrounded by a pink sea of walkers, holding up a flag that read “Optimism.” The emcee said the walk was for all the angels who did not survive but also about their heroes, like Halmos-Myers and Sheehan in the circle.
“As I was standing there, I was keeping it together and then I saw my whole team and they’re all weeping,” Halmos-Myers. “I had my hands up, holding the flag, I’m mouthing ‘I love you’ and tears are steaming down my face.”
Sheehan held the flag that read “Love.”
“It was very moving, you just saw this sea of humanity and they say ‘We’re doing this for all of you, we want you to live a lifetime. Everyone deserves a lifetime’,” Sheehan said.
This year was the worst walk conditions they have ever had: cold, colder and wet all weekend. While they had to wear plastic throughout the walk, and it was slippery and damp and their feet and knees ached, when put in perspective it wasn’t that bad.
“All that is a piece of cake compared to chemo,” Sheehan said.
The stories the women encountered on the walk were inspiring and also heartbreaking. Halmos-Myers met an 80-year-old survivor dressed as a clown who was cheering the walkers on, and a 33-year old survivor who is pregnant, something that is very hard after going through chemo. Another woman lost her sister three years ago at age 29 and she was diagnosed two years later. She brought a vial of her sister’s ashes and released them at the closing ceremony celebration with Halmos-Myers and Sheehan.
Halmos-Myers says that during the 3-Day event there is a lot of crying, and a lot of hugging strangers.
“I was very moved by the warmth and hospitality of San Diego,” said Sheehan, who has done walks in other cities where there are not as many people out cheering and supporting the walkers. Even in the pouring rain, people came out to cheer the walkers and to tell them “thank you” for what they were doing. The women said the 3-Day is more challenging than just overcoming bum knees or a bad back as so much work goes into it for fundraising and planning.
“Every year we say ‘No, we’re not going to do it again next year because it’s such an effort, we’ll just be cheerleaders,’” Halmos-
Myers said. “But Ann got diagnosed again in February and we all signed up immediately...every year there’s a reason why we should.”
“I can’t say ‘no’ because I have stage four breast cancer, they say some day I’m going to die from it. I can live with it but I have to keep it quiet, that’s why I say I’m sleeping with N.E.D.,” Sheehan said. “As long as we can walk, we should.”
Halmos-Myers has already found her reason for next year —her 22-year-old son Alex has asked if he can walk with her in 2011. With him by her side, she said she will walk and cry for another three days and 60 miles.
For more on the 3-Day for the Cure event, visit www.the3day.org.