My Story: Experiencing the Power of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

Jill on site at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer

As you all know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breezy Mama thought it fitting to start the month with a personal story of someone fighting breast cancer right now, at this moment. Cheryl agreed to share her experiences, as she’s going through the horrific events that come with being diagnosed with breast cancer. If her story gets one of you checked, then she’s done her job. As October comes to a close, we have another story to share, but not from one who’s experienced breast cancer per se, but one who has looked in from the outside, and has lost her terrific friend, Christy, to the disease. Breezy Mama‘s Contributing Beauty Editor, Jill Kloster has been through this ordeal, and, in her memory, participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer this past September. This is her story, along with her dear friend, Christy’s. . .

Jill dedicates this story to Linda Renwick-Lawson . . .

From Jill:

Christy Medrano hated me.  I was the new hire at a Los Angeles based health food company and she was not having it one bit.  On my third day, she accused me of breaking into her apartment and stealing her flat front Gap khakis.  Seriously.  I didn’t even know where she lived.  As weeks progressed I learned that she was a stand up comic and actress.  I was kind of intimidated, but even so, I made it my mission to make her like me.   We slowly bonded over the fact that neither one of us took life too seriously, not to mention our common love for laughing ourselves to tears.   Before long, we spent our days re-enacting Seinfeld episodes, doing Laker Girl impressions, and just plain messing around.  It got so bad that at least once every few months we were called into the owner of the company’s office where we were asked to “tone it down” and focus on our work.  Whatever.  Our relationship was all about laughing and being silly.  She was my perfect partner in crime.  Even after the company folded (not because of our lack of work ethic I hope), we would meet twice a year on our birthdays at Barney’s Greengrass for a lunch we couldn’t afford, and hopefully to catch sight of a celebrity or two (whom we would immediately make fun of and laugh loud enough so they could hear us).  We would get tipsy on a glass of wine and walk around the store downstairs fantasizing about what we would buy if we actually had some money.  I think one the more memorable outings was right after the Bill Clinton scandal, when post happy hour we spotted Monica Lewinsky at the mall.  The second she walked past us, we both broke into hysterics.  And I mean HYSTERICS.  Like bent over, red faced, can’t breathe laughing.  When we finally made it to the underground parking Christy kept yelling “Monica Lewinsky’s up there! “  And because of the echo, I’m sure anyone who was down there at the time heard her.  What was so funny about seeing Monica Lewinsky?  I’m not really sure, but that’s the kind of crap Christy and I were famous for.  We were perpetually single.  We even wore black duct tape armbands at work on Valentine’s day.  We both dated undesirable men, cried on each other’s shoulders, picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and threw ourselves back out there.  In 1999 I started dating my now husband.  Christy and I didn’t spend as much time together anymore, she was working hard on her career, and I was in love.

Life went on.  I got married; I had a baby boy and moved sixty miles away.  We kept in touch as much as we could, and knew that no matter what, we would always be friends.  We called each other on our birthdays, and constantly emailed about life, love and the future.  It was just before Christmas 2005 when I got an email from Christy that would change everything.  Forever.

This is a copy of the email I received that fateful day:

Dear family tree and friends,

First, to my friends whom I haven’t told yet, I know
you would want to know the following and its update.
I just haven’t had a chance to tell you-

Last week I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Ductal
Carcinoma In Situ, to be exact.  The “best possible
kind” said my GP, as its low grade, highly curable,
likely non-invasive and was found in its early stage.

This is the update -for all to know- as of today after
my first appt. and examination with my oncologist:

-She recommends an appt. with a surgeon
who she says is the best St. John’s Breast Center in
SM has -sometime next week- who will evaluate my
breasts and discuss performing  a lumpectomy, which is
the removal of the lumps — one in either breast.

-An MRI will be taken of them and, possibly, a biopsy
on the rt. one, as a lump is in that one, too, but has
yet to be defined.  Neat, ay?

-The surgeon will review the status of them and at
that point recommend the next step to take.
My oncologist foresees a lumpectomy followed by radiation
and then, possibly, taking Tamoxifen (antibiotic).  OR
there’s a small, small chance of this but she had to
put it out there:  a mastectomy, if necessary.  A
conclusion will be evident after the surgeon’s full
evaluation.

-So, basically, the surgical visit is the next
concrete step, with knowing that some kind of surgery
is, indeed, necessary.

Thank you to my family who was here/there for me upon
being told of the news –and friends who have offered
themselves in anyway.  Means a WHOLE lot. (Big group
hug)

Thank you, everyone, in advance.  I know you wish me
well, and I’m going to do my best to beat this.

Lots of love,
Christy

Christy

Christy hit her breast cancer head on.  After much deliberation and tears, she discovered that a double mastectomy was inevitable.   Even though she had no family history, they couldn’t take any chances that her cancer may return.  Shortly before the surgery we had a say good-bye to the “Tatas” party where we drank awful shots, and danced into the morning hours.  Christy was a small Filipino woman who let’s just say had not been “blessed” in the boob area.  She decided that she would replace her old almost A’s with small C cups.  I, for one, thought she deserved it.   She persevered through chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries over the next year and came out of it a brand new person.  Healthy living was at the top of her list.  She starting running and cut out some bad habits, and after her implants were in place she looked unbelievable.  She was loving life and was grateful for every single day.  I was finally able to breathe again.  I had my friend back.  We spent time on the phone, being silly and laughing again like we used to.

Once again, time marched on.  I had a baby girl in 2007 and we moved back to the L.A. area in 2008.  It had been awhile since I had seen Christy so I was excited to be closer to her so that we could get together and she could spend some time with my kids.  She loved kids and had hoped that someday she, too would experience the joy of being a mom.  When we had finally settled into our new home, I left her a voicemail to see when we could meet.  I was not surprised when I got a message from a friend of hers since I had asked Christy if she knew any babysitters in my end of town.  I was at the park with my kids when I returned the call.  The girl on the other end wasn’t interested in babysitting.  She was a friend and colleague of Christy’s that had some bad news; Christy was in the hospital with Leukemia.  I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach.  I didn’t hear anything else her friend said except for which hospital she was in.  I went the next night.

Never in my life have I seen such anger on my beautiful friend’s face.  I didn’t say a word, I just listened.  Christy told me that a side effect of Chemotherapy and Radiation can be Leukemia, and that only 2% of the population is affected.  And then she said the words that I will never be able to get out of my head; she said “How am I supposed to believe in God?”  That sentence crushed me.  All I wanted to do was make my friend better, and there wasn’t a thing I could do.  I visited Christy every Friday night.  She began chemo and radiation again, so there were times she was awake, and there were times she wasn’t.  Even when she was sleeping I would sit beside her bed and read, or pray.  When she was feeling up to it, we would walk around the hospital, always stopping at the same window so she could look outside.  We talked about so many things, but it always came back to her wanting to know what it was like to be a mom and a wife.  I felt so guilty having something that she only dreamed of.  I felt ungrateful, spoiled, and embarrassed about my lack of appreciation for the blessings in my life.  I promised myself that I would never ever take anything for granted again.  As the weeks moved on Christy’s chemo was clearly taking its toll.  She had some very bad days, and it was on those days when I left the hospital for the night that I was terrified that I would never see her again.

Christy’s doctors decided that her best shot at beating cancer for the second time would come in the form of an infant cord-blood transfusion.  Although experimental, they felt that it was a chance worth taking.  A match was found, and a surgery date was set.  I saw Christy for the last time on our usual Friday evening date, five days before the transplant.  Over the four months that Christy was in the hospital, there were so many times when I left her that I felt so scared that I would never see her again.  There were times that she looked so weak and sad that I thought for sure she wouldn’t make it through the night.  The good thing about the last visit I had with her was that I didn’t feel scared.  When I left that Friday, I felt confident that she would be OK.  Maybe I was in some weird way making peace with the whole situation.  I even got to kiss and hug her for the first time, as she was starting a new round of chemo after the transplant, so the germs didn’t matter.  I will never forget that moment.

I did not hear from anyone after the surgery but I knew that she was in the ICU, so I understood that I would get a call from someone when she was out of the woods.  I had to leave for New Mexico the Friday following the transplant, and since I had still not heard anything, I figured that everything was fine.  I was at the airport on my way home when I got a call.  The display showed that it was Christy calling, but the voice on the other end was not hers.  It was her brother Rommel, and he had terrible news.  Christy had passed away that Friday I left town.  Kidney failure, cardiac arrest . . . the words are still a blur.  The only thing I knew was that my friend was gone and I would never see her again.

I still can’t believe it. Christy was 38 years old and it just didn’t seem fair.  Her memorial was at a comedy club in Hollywood as her friends and family knew that she wouldn’t have stood for a morbid cry fest.  People got up on stage and told their personal stories about her and although there was a lot of laughter, there were still a lot of tears.  When the night was over, I felt so proud to have known such a wonderful girl, and I felt lucky that I got to experience being her friend.

Before Christy, I had had limited exposure to breast cancer.  I watched my childhood friend and university roommate Shauna; lose her mom to the disease in 1995.  Not long afterwards my friend Shari; another childhood friend nursed her mom through a double mastectomy in 2000 after receiving the news that she too, had breast cancer.  After Christy’s diagnosis, I became more and more aware of the large number of friends and family who have been affected by the disease.  Last year I became friends with a mom in my son’s class who was barely out of chemotherapy after battling the illness when we met.  Her name is Lisa, and she was diagnosed when she was eight months pregnant with her third child. We became very close and her story inspired me, so when she asked me If I would like to join her for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer this past September, I was all over it.  Another close friend from my son’s class also joined us.  Her name is Stephanie and she has a very long family history of breast cancer, so she was up to the task.

Part of Team Merry J: (from left to right) Stephanie, Jill, Lisa and Stacy

I had raised money for AIDS research in 2000, so I was aware of what the process would be.  However, over the past 10 years, technology has made the fund raising part so much easier.  For the Aids marathon, I had to mail out letters, and people had to mail me a check, which took forever.  For the Avon Walk, I created a homepage where anyone who wanted to donate simply clicked a button, entered their credit card information and they were done.  Just like that.  I hit my goal of $1800 about a month before the walk and I couldn’t have been happier.   The walk was in Santa Barbara, California which happens to be one of my favorite places in the country.  In fact, Lisa and I both vacationed there for a week this past summer.  Our team THE MERRY J WALKERS (we wore tie dye shirts – get it?) arrived on a Friday where we met our sister team; TEAM VINO SUNSHINE for dinner and drinks.  Friday was also the first day I met another member of our team.  Her name is Stacy and she and Lisa orignally met on a playdate, but re-connected when the ran into each other during chemo sessions.  Just like Lisa, and I am proud to report say that Stacy is doing fantastic.  We had two other teammates, Brooke and Kim who were high school friends of Lisa’s, and that made the Merry J Walkers complete.

To say that the first morning of the walk was overwhelming would be an understatement.  At the starting area I looked around at the sheer number of people who were participating and I was shocked.  What struck me most was how many women I saw with bald heads, who were obviously battling cancer themselves.  The tears began to flow.  Before we began, we heard story upon story from women, children, sisters and cousins who have been directly affected by the disease. I kept thinking to myself, “how can there be this many?”  At that moment, breast cancer became to me an illness of epidemic proportions.  Amongst the crowd there was a huge blow up tube that had the signatures of women from all over the country

Remembering Christy.

that did the walk.  I signed it in the area allotted for Santa Barbara walkers; “Christy: I miss you”.  Once again, I was a puddle on the floor.  After a few hugs from my teammates, I composed myself and we began the first day of our 40 mile walk.

We started in the cold and the dark, and much like a log jam, it took us a while to break free of the crowd and get ourselves into a groove.  When I mentioned to people that I was doing the walk, they seemed perplexed.  They wanted to know how on earth I thought I could walk that long, that far.  Two words:  Girlfriends and Chatter.  I was excited to be able to hang out with some of my favorite ladies and talk non-stop without a three year-old tugging on my leg asking for a snack.  We played rounds and rounds of “would you rather?” and “what would you do for 50 grand?” Let’s just say that Stephanie is not opposed to Tabasco in the eyeballs followed by a two hour sauna. I think I laughed for two miles.   What’s even funnier is that our chatter seemed to be getting in the way of our walk.  You see, at every rest stop, they clock you in, and it seemed as if we were walking a little too slow.  There was mention of a “sweeper van” that would come pick you up if you were taking too long to get the job done.  This became my motivation.  I kept saying to the girls: “I will NOT be getting swept up in that van!”  We constantly laughed about it, but in secret, I was kind of scared.

The worst part about that day was that there were a lot of hills.  And I mean A LOT of hills.  I consider myself in pretty good shape, but I definitely felt it in my 39 year old legs and knees.  The best part about that first day was the outpouring of support from the residents of Santa Barbara.  On every street, on every corner there were people with encouraging signs, water, snacks, Band–Aids–you name it.  There were even people who opened up their homes to let us use their bathrooms, which was so welcome considering we only had access to port-o-potties at the rest stops.

After ten hours and 26 miles of walking, day one had finally come to an end.  We got to the Avon pavilion, and literally dropped.  Sitting down was probably the worst thing to do because after my muscles became comfortable on the ground, it seemed nearly impossible that I would be able to get up and make it the ten yards to the hotel shuttle bus.

That first night, most of us were pretty thrashed.  Thank God for the hot tub.  If I could have slept in it, I would have.  After dinner both teams headed to one room to prepare for the next day.   Because of my one year experience as a nurse, I was in charge of operating on blisters.  Normally you would leave them to heal on their own, but we didn’t have that kind of time. We had 15 more miles to walk the next morning and we needed to make sure that we took care of anything that was hurting before we set out again.

When the alarm went off Sunday morning, I instantly wanted to quit.  My feet were burning when I walked to the bathroom, and my knees felt like they were going to explode.  As my body warmed up, I started to feel a little better, but not much.  Honestly, after we began mile one on the second day, I thought to myself: “How am I ever going to get through this?” The pain in my right knee was awful.  But once again, laughing and talking with the girls, hearing encouraging words of support from the residents of Santa Barbara got me through it.  Not to mention knowing that my husband and kids were waiting for me at the finish line.  Lisa also had something very special waiting for her at the finish line–she was one of the top ten fundraisers in the entire walk, which meant that she got to meet Fergie and Josh Duhamel!

Fergie has been a spokesperson for breast cancer ever since her mom AND her dad battled the disease, and she was there to present checks to doctors and hospitals. Checks that were written with the money we raised:  Over 6.4 million to be exact.  As a top fundraiser, Lisa was given a very special purple shirt to wear on the last day of the walk.  She wore it that day, and we were so proud of her.

When we knew we were getting close to the end of the walk, we became delirious with excitement.  We were singing at the top of our lungs and laughing like hyenas when all of a sudden . . . a giant bird pooped all over Lisa and her fancy purple shirt.  We were literally about ten yards away from the finish line.  We spent about five minutes cleaning poop off Lisa’s shirt, fanny pack, shorts . . . you name it, that bird pooped on it.   We finally rounded the corner and crossed the finish line.  My son and my daughter crossed it with me and I couldn’t have been happier.  The first thing I thought of was Christy.  Somehow, in some way I wished she could have seen me.  In some weird way, I think she did.

The Merry J's at the finish line. That's Lisa in her fancy purple shirt.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer was probably one of the best weekends of my life.  Although physically and emotionally tough, it was worth every step.  I am already signed up for next year, as I plan on doing  it every year for as long as I can.  My hope is that someday my kids will be able to do it with me.  When they ask why I do the walk, I’ll tell them about a girl named Christy who used to love to laugh and be silly.  Just like them.

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Comments

  1. Cheryl moore says

    I loved this story. What a powerful feeling to be with so many women who have come together for the same cause. I look forward to the day that we no longer have to loose wonderful women to breast cancer!

  2. Jilly..you have a gift…

    That story made me laugh..cry and was beautifully written.

    What a loss..Christy was something else.

    Good for you!!!

    Jxoxo

  3. Nancy Pisani-Robinson says

    Jill, what a wonderful story! I walked in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer in T.O. this year with a friend that is battling the disease…what an amazing, emotional experience! Let’s hope that they find a cure and our daughters won’t have to walk!
    Nanc xoxo

  4. I READ YOUR STORY, AND AM AMAZED AT HOW WELL U GET THRU SUCH ADVERSITY. i TOO HAD/HAVE BREAST CANCER. i WAS 47, AND NOW i AM 59.. whohoo.. GOD I REMEMBER THE FEAR! my girls were just teenagers, an are now women with breasts! i fear for them but we are vigiliant about their mammos despite the fact that the dr;s say they are still too young.. ummmm NOPE they have boobs and they are full grown and they too can grow tumors… so the mom that I am marched them to my onc a couple yrs after my diagnosis. so far , so good. but they are assuming that they might get it, because my mom died of breast cancer in 92.. my mom, their nana, and nana’s sister.. and her daughter.. YUP big history… scarey stuff. so my mom hat on and my survivor hat on, MY ONC didnt want to mess with me… long story short,,,,i had the brac-analysis….and it was positive… so the grls are now in a bigger early dectection mode, than they had figured. They will do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. they are 27-29 now. and havent had babies yet. etc. so they are trying to make decisions……
    well, not to bore you with details, because u know the drill…!!! life is good, take each day as it comes, to coin a cliche’…..and the power of positive thinking gets me thru each day… i have a wonderful hubby. and 3 step sons, and 2 twin grandkiddies, so I have many reasons to live.!
    you take good care of yourself, and look forward, not into the rear view window”.. it is what it is, and we just plow thru it all. we survivors are a great bunch arent we?? lmao…..i have walked several domen walks , and avon walks in my past 11 yrs. emotional as they are, i go back for more,,They keep me in check, and i love chattin with BREAST FRIENDS….

    take care, heres a hug (((((hug)))))).
    glad to know you!

    Pauline J

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