Wow! This weekend will be a year behind. Time to get moving.
Friday 28th February to Sunday 2nd March, 2014
‘The Weekend’ refers to ‘The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers’ benefiting Peter Mac, a 60km walk over two days. If you remember back to the days when I was blogging a bit more regularly, you will recall that my friend Lisey and I co-captained a team called ‘The Good Tittie Team’ (so named to tie in with both of our blogs). I don’t really need to say a lot about this weekend, but I’m sure I will. The achievements of ‘The Good Tittie Team’ have been all over Facebook (albeit nearly 12 months ago), and Lisey has written a more succinct summary which you can read here if you want to skip my ramblings.
In the weeks leading up to ‘The Weekend’, (apart from being broken by ridiculously intense chemotherapy) we were busy working as a team. We were sharing money around to make sure every member had raised over $2000 as that was a requirement to be eligible to walk and would also mean we would achieve trailblazer status. I’ll be honest and say we were all getting a bit frustrated by the constant phone calls “encouraging” us to continue fundraising, and we were not at all impressed by the fact that each individual had to raise a minimum of $2000 instead of a team total equating to at least $2000 per team member. For example, I had raised over $5000 but if someone else in my team raised any less than $2000, they would be told they were not allowed to walk. This led to a few heated phone conversations with organisers, and to my immediate family in particular, being politely described as “passionate”.
Achieving trailblazer status meant our team name would be inscribed on a plaque and displayed at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and we were all a little bit amused by the prospect of the word “tittie” appearing on a plaque. It also meant that Lisey and I, as team captains, would be invited to a post walk recognition event. I was particularly keen on attending that as I had a bit of a bone to pick with the CEO of Peter Mac (unrelated to the walk), who I assumed would be at this event.
On the Friday, our team uniforms had to be picked up and we had a team dinner as most team members had chosen to stay in a hotel that night given the walk started very early in the morning. We had an awesome uniform supplier but he had a bit of an issue with the printer and had to find a new printer who would do the job free of charge. This led to very last minute printing on Friday afternoon. We had a fantastic logo for the front of the T-shirts, designed by Papa Russ, and on the back, we had the names of all the team members as well as logos for businesses and names of people who had generously donated $500 or more. The layout and digital designing of all of this was painstakingly (painstaking because he had to deal with the indecisiveness of Jenni and myself) put together by Shane from Analog Creative, a good friend of mine and husband of one of the three Lisa’s in ‘The Good Tittie Team’.
Jenni, being the self-appointed uniform co-ordinator, was in charge of picking up the uniforms. Off she went in the early afternoon, for what she thought would be a quick trip to our supplier. The tops were there when she got there but there was a slight problem. The printers had taken it upon themselves to make an executive decision not to print the back of the tops because there were seams on them which they thought made the printing look imperfect. Yes, it did look slightly imperfect, but this was a fundraising walk, not the Olympic games (although you could be excused for thinking that’s how we were treating it). We wanted the names of the team members on those tops and we wanted to recognise our major sponsors. When Jenni told me about this issue, it took her quite a while to convince me she was telling the truth. I really thought she was pulling my leg.
So, Jenni and the supplier drove back to the printers to get the backs printed and of course that took a lot longer than anticipated. Jenni then took everything back to her house to sort out (two tops of correct size and a hat for each walker) and cousin Sonya delivered them to the restaurant we were all dining at, at approximately 10pm! We were all very impressed with the end result.
There had been much discussion and even a poll amongst the team, regarding what colour hats we should wear; black or purple. I can’t even remember what colour won the poll (possibly green) but I was firm in my opinion that they should be purple. And when you’re a captain of a team, with cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, not many people argue with you. As you will see from the photos below, purple was a good choice. In a sea of 1401 walkers, the purple hats stood out and it was easy to find fellow members of our team.
After a decent sleep, the day of the walk finally arrived. I woke up and got out of bed at stupid o’clock, which in itself was an achievement for me since I’d spent much of the past three weeks not really getting out of bed. I didn’t really have a plan regarding how much walking I was going to do, I just knew that I was going to cross the finish line with my team. I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk 30km each day, so a wheelchair had been hired so I could still rest if I needed to (and make someone push me!)
So in the early hours (it was still dark) of Saturday 1st March, all of the members of ‘The Good Tittie Team’ (and a couple of thousand other people) converged on the park where the walk was to begin. Surprisingly we all found each other. There was a buzz of excitement. Those who hadn’t been at dinner the night before were given their uniforms, trailblazer ribbons were attached, we ate breakfast and before we knew it, the opening ceremony was underway.
Lisey and I had been invited to be part of a survivors circle in the opening and closing ceremonies. This involved six cancer survivors holding hands to form a circle, and walking up on to the stage. There was a rehearsal on the Friday afternoon which I couldn’t attend but the organisers had said that Lisey could tell me what to do and I could decide on the day if I wanted to be involved. Everything happened so quickly that morning that I completely forgot about the survivors circle so I didn’t take part in it. When they first asked me to do it, I told Lisey I didn’t really feel like a cancer survivor given that I still had cancer and was still having treatment. I felt like I was surviving but was not yet a survivor. Lisey took part in the opening ceremony and they managed well enough with five people in the circle.
There was a mass aerobics session to warm everyone up and then it was underway. We got a photo of our team together and off
we they went. You see, I really hadn’t planned this well so the wheelchair was in the car. We didn’t think it was a good idea for me to take off walking in case I didn’t make it very far. Cousin Sonya and I decided we’d go back to the car and drive to the first pit stop and meet the team there, where I could join them with the wheelchair.
Cousin Sonya had originally signed up to do the walk but pulled out as she thought she would be of much better use being a general team helper, being there if I needed anything and looking after my daughter who wanted to be involved in the weekend but obviously wouldn’t have been able to walk 60km. I gave Sonya a bit of hard time when she first pulled out of walking but it turns out she was right about being better used as a helper. Sonya was there if anyone needed anything, she followed us around tooting and screaming ‘Go Good Titties’, she met us at pit stops with my daughter and she could go to the shop if someone needed something. It was a very wise decision by Sonya, probably the only wise decision she has ever made in her life.
It was at the first pit stop that I experienced one of the MANY highlights of the weekend. A few weeks before the walk (in fact, while I was in hospital having chemo), I received a donation from a stranger. The name sounded familiar and I soon realised it was from the captain of the ‘Walkie Talkies’. The ‘Walkie Talkies’ were the biggest and highest fundraising team across all the walks in Australia. We had them in our sights at one point, thinking we could raise more money than them, but that was a tad ambitious given their team was at least twice the size of ours. Us, ambitious? Never! Danni, the captain, left a lovely message with her donation and said that she’d stumbled across our team page on the walk website and was so touched by the story that she felt compelled to donate. We exchanged several emails and it turned out she lived not far from me and my chemo buddy, Karine, and one of her friends, Georgie, who Jenni and I had met at my very first chemo session, were also members of the ‘Walkie Talkies’. Small world.
So Sonya, my daughter and I arrived at the first pit stop and I questioned everyone who walked past me wearing a ‘Walkie Talkies’ t-shirt. “Where’s Danni?”, “Where’s your captain?” The support (not just the donation but moreso the emails and messages of support) from a complete stranger was so touching, so I was determined to meet her. Finally, she was pointed out to me. She had also spotted me, on the side of the footpath, wearing a ‘Good Tittie Team’ t-shirt, bald head partly obscured by a purple cap and a wheelchair beside me. “Are you Melissa?” she asked. I nodded. We hugged, laughed and chatted. I introduced her to my cousin but before I even had time to tell her my cousin’s name, she asked “Are you cousin Sonya?” She’d been reading my blog and knew all about favourite cousin Sonya, who at that point was feeling a little bit famous.
Then we were on our way again. I walked and someone got left pushing the empty wheelchair. If I looked even the slightest bit tired or short of breath, I was ordered to sit down in that wheelchair and have a rest! I walked a fair bit on that first day, much to the amazement of everybody including myself, but if you ask anybody who pushed me in the wheelchair, I spent quite a bit of time sitting in it too.
That first day saw us walking through the streets of Melbourne, past the hospital I’d spent a week at recently and would be back at for more treatment in the next week, through beautiful parks and gardens, past lane ways, past Federation Square and the MCG. We also walked right past Peter Mac, the hospital we were fundraising for, where staff cheered us on, high fived us and had photos with us. The pit stops were amazing; all run by enthusiastic volunteers. Some families even made their own pit stops out the front of their houses, serving cold drinks to weary and sore walkers. All of these (except for passing the hospital I was being treated at) were highlights.
We mostly walked in small groups on the first day, caught up with each other at pit stops and then the composition of the groups would change. It was an opportunity to really catch up with people have a good chat. There was a lot of reminiscing and new friendships were made as not all the team members knew each other prior to the walk.
It’s kind of funny going through these photos now. It looks like the only place I stood up was at pit stops! I promise, I did do some walking.
After many hours, the end of the first day approached. I think the last 3km went for 10km because for quite a while there, it seemed that no matter how far we walked, we still had 3km to go every time we asked! Finally we could see the end. Team members who had gone ahead waited near the finish line so we could cross together, as a team. We came in to a heroes reception with family members meeting us to cross the line with us and others forming a very loud cheer squad. Yes, that’s you President.
When we got back to ‘camp’ there were massages (not long enough), foot soaks, facials, dinner, limping, talking and even some dancing. Some people spent the night in tents at the campsite but the more sensible ones, like me, slept in a proper bed in a hotel room.
I was keen to walk again (some of the way) on Sunday but I was mindful of my weary team who would probably find it painful enough just walking themselves without having to push me in the wheelchair too if I needed a rest. There was no shortage of volunteers to push me, but I have to say, some team members set a cracking pace (I’m looking at you Lisa N, and cousins Chris and Cheyne) to make sure they were nowhere that bloody wheelchair and couldn’t be roped into pushing. My daughter had had a big day and a late night, so I thought she could do with a sleep in too. I decided it would be fairest on everybody, including myself, if I just joined the team for the last few kilometres and crossed the finish line with them. So whilst the rest of the team set off at about 7 am, cousin Sonya, my daughter and I took our time, checked out of the hotel and met the team for lunch at one of the pit stops. Just before this pit stop, we were joined by one of our old high school teachers who most of us hadn’t seen for about 20 years! That was a beautiful surprise.
The team took off again and I got in the car with Sonya and my daughter. We met up with them again at a pit stop that was maybe 6km from the finish line. I decided I would stay with the team from this point so the wheelchair came out of the car. I was feeling surprisingly good so when people kept insisting I have a rest, I just kept walking. Not wanting to let the wheelchair go to waste, others took the opportunity to have a rest.
Which reminds me, we also lent the wheelchair to another walker, not from our team, who was struggling on the Saturday, and one of ‘The Good Tittie Team’ members (yep, a cousin) even pushed her. That wheelchair certainly came in handy.
Sunday was also a birthday for one of our team members. Unfortunately that occasion went by very under recognised as we were all a little bit pre-occupied with getting to that finish line. Thanks for giving up your birthday to walk with ‘The Good Tittie Team’ Waughbag.
There were a few casualties on day 2. Besides the blisters and sore muscles, there were lost toenails, a case of concussion from head butting a low hanging tree branch and a couple of knee injuries that meant one or two team members had to get on a bus and miss a lot of the walk. I won’t name them because I know they were disappointed that they couldn’t complete the entire walk.
Finally, a group of us arrived at the last pit stop. Those who had powered on ahead were waiting near the finish line so we could all cross together (they had been given strict instructions that we’d be crossing as a team), and those who were straggling behind were called and encouraged to get a move on so we didn’t miss the closing ceremony. At the last pit stop, which was about 4 km from the finish line, we were joined by a old primary school friend (who had gone to primary school with Lisey and I) who we probably hadn’t seen in about 25 years. There were five girls in our grade (in grades 5 and 6) at that primary school and we had four of them together at that moment.
We made our way along that hilly last 3 km, joined by kids and friends.
There were frantic texts from the cheer squad – “how far away are you? We’ve been waiting for hours!” Finally at about 2:30 pm, the sea of purple hats approached and finally crossed the finish line.
And then we crossed!
Someone very special also crossed the finish line with us, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time. One of our youngest team members, Daisy, who is Jenni’s (fave sis) niece by marriage, was walking for her Grandma and Jenni’s mother-in-law, Barb. We were all walking for Barb. Since it’s been a long time between blog posts, I may need to remind you that Barb was diagnosed with ovarian cancer around the time we signed up for the walk, so from the outset, she was one of the people we were walking for (since this walk was ‘The Weekend to End Women’s Cancers’). Daisy’s name on our T-shirts was Daisy ‘Walking for Grandma’ Johnson. Barb and her husband Len had donated money to our team. Sadly, Barb passed away just two weeks before the walk. Len met up with us both days, and walked some of the way with us. On day 2, he walked the last 4 km with us and just before we crossed the finish line, Daisy was given an urn containing Barb’s ashes to carry across the finish line with our team.
So for a team that officially had 29 people walking on the day, we had at least double that crossing the finish line as we were joined by so many supportive and proud family members. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough ‘Good Tittie’ T-shirts for everyone. You can watch a video of us crossing the finish line here, compliments of Shane, our T-shirt designer (I hope it works!)
Once we crossed the line, there was lots of hugging, tears, fist pumping and posing for photos. The cheer squad had grown from day 1 as I think the President may have put word out that all family members must be present!
Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of time for hugging, crying and photos with our cheer squad as the closing ceremony was about to get underway. Everyone who had walked was given a blue t-shirt to wear, except for the cancer survivors, who were given a pink T-shirt. Lisey, my sister-in-law (a breast cancer survivor in case you’ve forgotten) stood at the back of all the survivors and when we were asked to pair off and make our way to the stage, we rebelled and walked hand in hand as a group of three. We ended up coming to a stop right near the rest of ‘The Good Tittie Team’, still easily identified in their purple hats.
As we listened to speakers during the closing ceremony we noticed four survivors (in pink T-shirts) holding hands to form a circle and walking awkwardly towards the stage. I say awkwardly because they really could have done with another one or two people in that circle to make it bigger and easier for them to hold hands and walk. Yep, that was the survivors circle that Lisey was absolutely supposed to be a part of, and I should have been a part of. Oops!
When the ceremony was over, we had one last team photo and then we all made our way home. Tired. Sore. Proud. Very, very proud.
As you’ve probably realised, if you’ve read this far, there were just so many highlights that weekend. I haven’t even described all of them! I left out the bit about cousin Sonya running over my daughter’s plates and being so upset I thought she must have run over my daughter! Perspective cuz, perspective. What started as a team of two (Jenni and I) called ‘The Good Team’ in about September 2013, quickly grew to 30. I don’t know what I was expecting when I started the team, but it wasn’t that. Lisey joined us and ‘The Good Tittie Team’ was born. There were eleven members of my family in the team including Uncle Max and Uncle Russ who had flown over from Perth to walk! Auntie Kaz from WA also walked with us on day 1 (and sensibly went shopping on day 2). There were primary school friends, high school friends, work colleagues/friends, three of whom had travelled from Geelong and there were friends who didn’t fit into any particular category other than being great friends! There were Lisey’s friends and my sister-in-law, Amanda’s cousin joined to walk with her too. We peaked at thirty, lost one to pregnancy, one to work commitments and one (cousin Sonya) to other duties. My brother, Mark, stepped in to replace one of the casualties and someone else joined us just days before the walk, so in the end we had 29 walkers/wheelchair pushers and a team of supporters just as big.
Thank you to each and every member of the amazing ‘Good Tittie Team’. Thank you to our amazing supporters. Thank you to our amazing uniform supplier and to Shane (our graphic designer) and to the printers who stressed us out. We had the best team uniforms without doubt! Thank you to every single person and company who donated to us. We were all blown away by the generosity of our donors. Thank you to my old high school and my daughter’s primary school who both held free dress days and raised over $1500 for us. Thank you to the team members who had garage sales and sold their belongings on eBay to ensure they raised $2000 and qualified to walk. Thank you to the team members who shared excess money they had raised amongst those who were struggling. That is team work.
We were part of something big that weekend. 1401 walkers raised $3.6 million for cancer research and we, ‘The Good Tittie Team’ contributed over $70,000!
Daisy had her GoPro there all weekend to capture the memories and she put together a short video which you can watch below. Just awesome!
Here is the proof of our trailblazer status.
So, a year later, as I finally got around to writing this post, I watched the video and looked at a lot of photos. I was reminded of what we achieved and how much fun it was. I contacted ‘The Good Tittie Team’ yesterday and said I thought it was time we got together again and did something good. Nearly everyone replied with “I’m in!” Rest assured, I’ll be chasing up those who haven’t replied! There might be more than one ‘good thing’ that we do, but at the moment we have our sights on a walk in Melbourne for Lymphoma Australia; ‘Legs Out for Lymphoma’ on August 22nd. Details haven’t been finalised yet but I can guarantee it will not be a 60km walk and it will only be a one day event. So please, if you’re in Melbourne, keep 22nd August free to join ‘The Good Tittie Team’ and get all your friends on board. Being a walk for lymphoma, I’m thinking a team name change might be in order. ‘The Shitty Lymph Node Team’; that should raise as many eyebrows as ‘The Good Tittie Team’. But somehow I don’t think people will be yelling out “Show us your shitty lymph nodes” like they did with the good titties.
So there it is, a short 5000 word summary of a fantastic weekend. That was indeed a highlight of 2014. It was all pretty much downhill, sometimes very steeply, from there.