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Breast cancer walker finds her inner superhero

  • Story Highlights
  • Breast Cancer 3-Day raises money, awareness
  • Participants average 20 miles a day, raise at least $2,200 each
  • More than 2,500 walked in Atlanta's 3-Day
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By Jessica Demers
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- For the last few years I've thought I'd like to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-Day. The idea of doing something incredible with more than 2,500 other women for such a great cause seemed like the perfect goal for me.

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Jessica Demers found inspiration in her fellow walkers' smiles, ink shirts and boas and butterfly wings.

It would mean walking 20 miles a day for three days, along with thousands of other women and men, to raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. Komen for the Cure sponsors the walks in cities across the country throughout the year. Last year's 3-Day raised $86 million.

But every year I'd find an excuse. First it was that I'd just had a baby. Then I felt like it was too big to do alone. This year, when a member of my online mom group mentioned the walk, I decided that it would be now or never.

I knew that it wouldn't be easy. Even the idea of walking 20 miles a day is daunting.

And I'd have additional challenges. In January, I broke my ankle and required surgery to install a metal plate and 10 screws. After months of physical therapy, I still occasionally hobbled when I walked.

My ankle made me reconsider the walk....for about a minute.

Then I started thinking about all the women who would be doing the walk. There would be women there who'd fought CANCER. Who was I to complain about a little metal in my ankle?

On the morning of October 12, I stood among thousands of other women (and men) knowing that I'd done the right thing, but wondering how hard it would be.

By this time I was also 15 weeks pregnant.

Then I looked around and saw all the smiling faces, all the pink shirts and boas and butterfly wings, and I knew that even if it was hard and even if I was in pain, I'd make it.

While we walked, I heard many stories about survival.

Some women talked about their own battles, some talked about their mother or sister or friend. Even if the story ended with a woman losing her battle with breast cancer, it was always followed by, "...but she's here now." The fact that somebody was walking for her showed that her spirit was living on.

On Day 2 somebody asked me what my story was. I sheepishly replied that I didn't have a story. It's true, as scared as I am of breast cancer, my immediate family has never been touched. My mother, my sister and I are all still healthy and cancer free. I momentarily worried that these women would think I was a fraud for walking with them.

Then a woman named Tery, an 18-year survivor who had cancer as a teenager, looked at me and said, "That's why I walk....so you'll never have a story to tell."

As I approached the end of Day 3, and the end of my journey, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. I felt like I'd given something back to the world. And while I'd relied on the "sweep vans" a couple of times to give my ankle a break, I'd walked so much farther than I'd expected.

I went into the walk hoping that my daughter would think that I was a superhero. By the time I finished, I felt like I was a superhero. I'd challenged myself -- and succeeded.

The hour after closing ceremonies was like the end of summer camp. These 2,500 women had shared laughter and tears, meals and showers in mobile trucks, pink tents and port-a-potties. Now they were bonded by so much more than cancer.

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Who knew that something so profound could happen in three days?

I'd gone into the walk knowing two other walkers. I came out with a long list of e-mail addresses the promises to stay in touch. As I was leaving, my new friend Tery gave me a hug and said "I'll see you next year...and I hope that you still don't have a story to tell." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Jessica Demers is a satellite coordinator for CNN.

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