It was as if my body and my head went to war, and I won. Don't get me wrong: it was a pitched battle, where both sides gave their all, but in the end, only one of us could win.
Strangely, in between KC's two bouts with cancer was my cousin TC's same battle. She went for a much more radical solution than KC had, and I fully believe that it saved her life. That side of the family doesn't have much luck with this terrible disease.
This is me at my highest weight. Needless to say, I was a hot mess. When I looked in the mirror, I didn't even recognize myself.
Every time I think about that time in my life, I remind myself that I came out of it. Things change. Things always change. I'd been living with my parents for six months as I saved for my condo, and the simple act of moving back into my own house was enough to snap me out of it. I had a party. I saw pictures of myself and thought, no. I can't remain this person.
It didn't start out too tough. This was what I'd trained for, you see, and the miles melted away under my feet. Six miles in and I felt like I had the energy of a thousand men. An army. My sister's neighbor Jeanette and I met up at the opening ceremony and started out the walk complete strangers. By mile two, we were done with the pleasantries. By mile four, we'd moved on to ex-husbands and boyfriends. By mile ten, insane sex stories. Other women would join in the conversation here and there. We were in high spirits. I could do this. I knew I could do this.
My Aunt Arlene came to cheer me on somewhere around mile twelve. By this point I was flagging a bit. She walked with us for a little while, chatting here and there, but by this point, we were running out of the desire to speak. She kept up with us for a little while but when we hit the next rest stop, we decided to refill water and keep going. As long as I had the energy, I was going to walk.
At mile fifteen, I knew that blisters were forming. I took off my shoes and took care of my feet as well as I could: changed socks, put on the glide stuff, added powder. It was no use, though. My feet were quickly going south.
The last part of the day began to pass in a cloud of mile marker signs. Whereas before a mile seemed like nothing, now it seemed as if some evil gnome had gone along the route and changed the mile signs so that we were walking further and further.
I got to a point where I was going to take a picture of every mile marker just to prove to myself that I'd walked that far. However, after mile 21, I was so tired that I wasn't going to even look for my camera phone when I saw new ones. I decided to rely on my memory. I started texting friends in hopes of getting encouraging responses. I was desperate for anything that could help convince me to continue to put one foot in front of the other.
At one point, I remember, we passed an ice cream stand and sat down at a table with a woman and her kids. "You're crazy," she told us. "God love you both."
Jeannette called her ex-husband Matt and told him where to meet us. She kept going on about his good qualities. I couldn't wait to meet him.
Finally we hit the 26 mile marker. Matt was about half a block further. He started walking with us. Such a nice guy, too. I couldn't see why she'd left him, because he was clearly still in love with her.
Of course, I noticed all of this as if through a haze. In the end, I didn't care about Matt and Jeannette. All I cared about was the park I could see ahead of me, and the banner that marked the end of my travail.
Jeannette went home, promising to meet up with me the next morning. I went to the dinner tent and watched the fireside show as if in a fog. All around me, people were laughing, chatting. I could barely lift my fork.
They told us that all we had to do was find our number and our bags and tents would be waiting for us. If the tents weren't set up, there would be boy scouts to help us. I headed to the fields where they had the tents set up and had a hard time finding my section. Rows and rows of tents greeted me. I found my row and looked for my number: O80. Yes, of course you guessed it. My tent wasn't there. Neither was my bag. I looked around for the boy scouts and saw nobody, just rows and rows of tents, so I did what any self-respecting girl would do: I sat down in the empty spot where my tent should be and cried.
That's when nice tent lady (I never learned her name) found me. She told me that the boy scouts had gone home and walkers were to get their own gear. I looked where she pointed to the trucks and thought they looked impossibly far. I'll just sit here a while longer, I told her. I seriously couldn't move if you paid me right now.
She took pity on me, found my gear and my tent, and helped me set it up. I climbed inside, saw the Avon tower rising above me like a giant phallus, and took a picture.
The rest of the evening passed in a fog of waiting for the shower and trying to find a bathroom, but then I finally crawled into my sleeping bed and slept the sleep of the dead. "To sleep, perchance to dream ..."
The second day was worse than the first.
Everybody was crazy, though. Check out this guy. He was an EMT working the walk route who stood on top of the piling by the river dancing to some disco soundtrack he had blasting from the ambulance parked behind him. His partner stood next to the ambulance, arms folded, grinning at his foolishness. She looked like a mom who was content to let her kid act the fool so long as he wasn't hurting anybody.
One of the things that struck me along this walk was how committed SO many people were to this cause. They had a crew of bikers who moved along the walk route and made sure that street crossings were safe. Now, this would be a nice enough thing to do, but on top of that, they were hilarious. A couple were cute enough for us bawdy women to comment about for the next mile, but some were just plain funny. This guy was wearing a dress and decorated himself from head to toe. You could tell that in his real life, based on the bike he had resting at the curb, he'd never be caught dead in anything but leather.
Sometimes along the walk, people would meet up with their families. This little boy found his mother along the route and walked with her for about a mile. Do you see her back? They gave us signs where we could write the names of the people we were walking for. You can't really see this, but her sign says a few names before it says, "For Me." That's the thing that got me. Every time I wanted to break down and stop walking, all I had to do was look around and see all these cancer survivors -- some were even fighting it during the walk itself -- and I'd think, shut up, Cecilia. You're seriously a wimp if you can't keep going.
Now, if ever you're in Grant Park in Chicago and you want to go to the Field Museum, there's a fun little underpass that will take you on a path right up to the museum. I was trudging up that path when I realized that somewhere behind me, someone was playing bagpipes.
There's one song in this world that when played, should only be played on the bagpipes. That's "Minstrel Boy."
My best friend Dawn had texted the previous day to tell me that she was going to try to meet me at the finish line. Her son Shawn is my godson, and I knew they'd be waiting. I can't even tell you how much it meant to me that there would be someone there to meet me, to witness what I'd done.
So of course when I rounded the corner and saw that she'd brought a whole cheering section of our friends, I broke into tears again. Shawn even made me a poster, for chrissakes. A poster. Nobody's ever made me a poster before.
They jumped up and hugged me and I hugged them back and then I said, no, I have to finish. So I finished. Dawn took a picture of me after I crossed the finish line. Of course, a man walked into the shot right as she snapped the photo, but whatever. It's a record. I made it.
Anyway, I finally made it to the finish line, my puffy feet making every step agony. And just because, I took a picture of them. Posterity and all that. Nobody's ever had feet uglier than these.