Going the extra 60 miles

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:49am

SHORELINE — To say that “Teachers Who Triumph” members have gone the extra mile in raising money for breast cancer research is inaccurate — they intend to go an extra 60 miles.

Twenty-five women affiliated with Meridian Park Elementary School, including teachers, paraeducators, therapists and friends, will be participating in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day walk, from July 22-24. The 60-mile walk is not a race, but a fund-raising walk for people committed to fighting breast cancer.

“We are walking for our triumphant teachers, the three of them, and also for our daughters and sister-in-laws,” said member Sarah Soroos, 29, an early childhood special education teacher.

The group of women are walking in honor of three Meridian Park Elementary teachers, two of whom presently teach and one who is on leave, who have battled breast cancer. This is the first time all three survivors will be walking together in the 3-Day, which raises money for breast cancer research.

Together, the 25 women have raised $60,833, after meeting individual fund raising goals of $2,100.

The walk is roughly 20 miles per day and will begin on the beach at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah, after an opening ceremony. During the three-day walk, participants will head toward Bellevue and Redmond, eventually curving around the top of Lake Washington, into Shoreline. The walk ends with a closing ceremony in Magnuson Park.

A specified route will open for walkers each morning at 6:30 a.m. and close by 7:30 p.m. Pit stops are located every 2-3 miles along the way, providing water, snacks and toilets. Walkers eventually end up at a camp location each evening, where they receive hot meals, showers and identical blue tents (spending the night is optional). Musical entertainment is scheduled, and members are encouraged to mingle and share stories.

“It’s like a little utopia,” said early childhood special education teacher Erin Williams, who has walked four times in the 3-Day. “Every other person who has already arrived at camp and set up their tent offers to do so for you, they say ‘take your shoes and socks off.’”

Each morning, walkers wake up early to pack their belongings and tent. Crew members transport walkers’ gear during the day, in semi trucks. Walkers set their own pace, and if unable to keep up, vans transport them to the next site.

Members of “Teachers Who Triumph” say they will gain strength from having one another close by during the 60 miles but also look forward to meeting other participants and sharing stories. And hope.

The three survivors

Two of the three breast cancer survivors have walked in the Breast Cancer 3-Day before, traveling to San Diego when the walk was not offered in Seattle. A third survivor was not able to join at the time, as she was busy fighting for her life. This is the first time all three survivors will be walking together in the Seattle 3-Day.

Former teacher Andree Rice, 41, who taught first-grade for 13 years, has battled breast cancer twice. Her weakened immune system no longer allows her to teach. This is Rice’s first time participating in the 3-Day walk, after raising $4,600.

In June 1999, Rice was first diagnosed with breast cancer, three days before her 35th birthday. Rice was re-diagnosed in May 2003 with stage four breast cancer that had metastasized to both lungs.

“I know through this all I can never lose hope, that is the reason I will try to get through 60 miles,” Rice said. “Having cancer is not always a death sentence.”

Rice’s doctors now tell her she has beaten the odds. The status of her cancer is classified as No Evidence of Disease (NED). Although NED status is somewhat interchangeable with remission, Rice said after having stage 4 terminal cancer, remission is impossible.

Although Rice is experiencing a significant amount of joint and bone pain from cancer medicine, she knows team members will encourage her along the 60-mile walk.

“The team aspect is huge,” Rice said. “It is similar to how Lance Armstrong has his team of people helping him along; that is what I am going to need.”

Sixth-grade teacher Erin Kirkpatrick-Suzuki, 32, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 28 years old, during Christmas vacation in December 2001. Kirkpatrick-Suzuki has been in remission for three years. This is her second time participating in the 3-Day, after raising $2,695.

Breast cancer runs in Kirkpatrick-Suzuki’s family. Her mother died from the disease at the age of 42, when Kirkpatrick-Suzuki was 16. Her grandmother also had breast cancer, but was a 25-year survivor.

“I was a little freaked out when I was diagnosed at 28,” Kirkpatrick-Suzuki said. “I didn’t think it was something I needed to be worried about.”

Kirkpatrick-Suzuki completed six months of chemotherapy and continued teaching even when she lost all of her hair. Her students were very supportive, and Kirkpatrick-Suzuki even arranged for her doctor to visit the class and explain the treatment.

“Even at the age of 12, the kids were so sensitive and supportive,” Kirkpatrick-Suzuki said. “I had a little boy in class who shaved his head.”

This is also the second race for Elise Clarke, 57, early childhood special education teacher, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2003. Clarke has been in remission for two years and raised about $4,000 for the 3-Day walk.

Clarke said the special education students she teaches were a source of strength during her treatment. One boy in particular, who battled brain cancer and later lost his fight with leukemia, inspired her to keep fighting.

“The kids gave me so much strength, with the disabilities they have and how they overcome them,” Clarke said. “I thought I could fight this if they are fighting just to be kids.”

Both Rice and Kirkpatrick-Suzuki also provided Clarke with much support at school, giving her hugs and pep talks during recess. Before Clarke’s first chemotherapy treatment, Kirkpatrick-Suzuki gave her a bag with a magazine, snacks, note and balloon.

Survivor support

Several of the 25 members of “Teachers Who Triumph” have participated in 3-Day walks before. The instigator of the team (and the woman who has participated in the most walks) Williams, 30, participated in the Seattle 3-Day five years ago, in 2001. She decided to walk by herself after hearing about the event on the radio.

Williams said despite the dehydration, sun and heat rashes, her experience was exceptional.

“I can only describe it as camp when you are younger, when you get home you have to tell everyone about it,” Williams said. “But you can’t describe it in a way that anyone can really understand.

“You just encourage them to go the next year and experience it for themselves.”

In 2003, Williams recruited another teacher to accompany her to San Diego for the 3-Day walk and in 2004, three other teachers (including Clarke and Kirkpatrick-Suzuki) accompanied her to San Diego. This year, due to a race being held in Seattle, 25 women were recruited.

Members all agree the 3-Day is special this year not only because it is held locally, but because all three cancer survivors are able to participate. That, in fact, is exactly why they are walking in the 3-Day, to ensure new treatment options are available to women.

“Andree was on a trial drug, if she were on a regular drug, she might not be walking with us,” Clarke said. “That is why we are walking, so those drugs keep coming out.”

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