We got off the shuttle, my good friend Wendy and I, and found the statue of young Lincoln, the spot where we’d meet Kate and David later on. A pink crowd pulsed on the green, ebbing into and flowing out of long tents. We plunged in.
The tents housed tables; the tables were staffed by vendors, healthcare professionals, and representatives from not for profits. We made our way through, smiling at people in their official ‘Race for the Cure’ t-shirts—pink for survivors, white with a pink logo for us, the supporters. We gathered freebies—water bottles, lanyards, pink shoelaces, literature—chatting with the folks behind the tables. And then the music swelled up and a voice called us all, over the loud speaker, to come watch the survivors’ walk.
Wendy led the way; she’d done this before. We stationed ourselves by the walkway leading to the stage, a spot where Kate would see us cheering when she came through. An enthusiastic young emcee introduced the Boobalicious girls, dancers in magenta wigs, oversized pink sunglasses, and bubblegum pink cheerleader costumes. Music pulsed, the Girls started to dance, and the first survivors strode through an archway of bright pink balloons.
The crowd began to applaud, and the applause turned to rhythmic clapping. The breast cancer survivors moved to the music. They surged toward the stage, where the emcee, the mayor, representatives from the Cancer Treatment Center, dignitaries of every sort, stood waiting to greet them. A teenaged girl, bald and sassy, one string of pink metallic beads around her neck, rolled her eyes at her teary mother. She rolled her hips to the music.
Behind her bobbed a woman we’d talked with on the bus, 89 years old, sporting 35 strands of beads. And behind them came tall women, short women, plump and thin women, women of every imaginable hue,– and men, too. Five strands, they wore; ten strands; one.
They danced and they hugged; they reached out for people in the crowd. They laughed. Tears ran.
As the first survivors reached the stage, reached the point of hugs and congratulations and official well-wishes, progress slowed. One lone woman, tall with long dark hair and a quadruple strand of pink beads, waited silently just in front of where we stood. She eyed the stage, thoughtful, patient, head high, hands at her side. As people jumped and crowed around her, she emanated calm and cool grace.
And then “I Will Survive” started to play.
At first I was afraid
I was petrified…
The song began its slow warm up, the crowd began to keep the beat, and the brunette survivor began to move, pumping a muscle on, And I grew strong…and I learned how to get along…
By the time Gloria Gaynor sang, Go on now go, she was in full dance mode, the song carrying her. She pointed with her long slender finger; she shook that finger tauntingly: Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?
And she jumped into the words I will survive! with hands flailing, hips swinging, lips parted in a huge and triumphant grin. The survivors around her made a circle; she danced their fear, their joy, their pain, their resurrection.
Wendy stood very still. My throat felt thick and frozen.
The last stanza rolled around; the crowd, survivors and supporters, was chanting it, belting it out. Did you think I’d lay down and die? OH NO NOT I! And the survivors again began to move forward. The brunette dancer looked a little startled; she resumed her slow promenade to the stage, coming to herself, no doubt a person who didn’t normally dance for a crowd of thousands. She caught my eye and gave me a quick thumbs up.
The song ended, the moment passed, the dignitaries had their say, and Wendy and I—Granny Brigade that we were—went hunting for the porta-potties.
We met our vibrant young friend, Kate, her husband, David, and their supportive entourage by the Lincoln statue, and we walked the cordoned streets of the city. It was a slow and dignified walk, past grand old homes, through medical complexes, down streets with trendy shops and open-air cafes.
It was not a race—though it was billed as a race for the cure—it was not a competition; it was a slow, steady surge of support and belief. It was an affirmation. Whatever happens, these people—these thousands of people—seemed to be saying, we are going to make it. From those of us there to walk in support, to those with one, seven, or 37 strands of survivor beads, to the family members with the smiling picture of their beautiful mother and her birth and death dates emblazoned on their custom T-shirts, the message was clear: the spirit can’t be quenched.
Whatever happens—WHATEVER happens,–the crowd carried the message forward: We will survive.