Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure: Survivors Standing in Solidarity

Guest Writer: Shelby Narike, Komen St. Louis Public Relations & Marketing Intern

I experienced the big, pink whirlwind weeks leading up to the Susan G. Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure in the temporary position of intern; however, I experienced Race Day in my newly permanent role: breast cancer survivor.

Lexie Sprague and Shelby Narike, Komen St. Louis Public Relations & Marketing interns, Summer 2015

Lexie Sprague and Shelby Narike, Komen St. Louis Public Relations & Marketing interns, Summer 2015

I discovered the Komen internship opportunity because I was desperately trying to make sense of why I had breast cancer. After beginning my internship, I have learned that the why is unimportant; the how is what matters. How is this going to shape me? How am I going to use this? How am I going to make something good out of this?

I decided to make something positive out of my diagnosis by interning with Susan G. Komen, an organization that diligently fights the very breast cancer that rattled my life and continues to rattle the lives of others.

In the weeks leading up to June 13, 2015, I assisted the wonderful women of Susan G. Komen St. Louis in preparation for the 17th Annual Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure as a public relations and marketing intern. Lexie, my fellow intern, and I were warmly welcomed into the Komen St. Louis office. These first few weeks as an intern are a caffeine-fueled blur in my mind. My coworkers are magical women who somehow manage infinite tasks to insure the Race runs smoothly. Lexie and I tried our best to assist in anything and everything Race-related.

Lexie and I arrived in Downtown St. Louis at 5 am with eager anticipation of the day we had both only experienced vicariously through the memories of our coworkers. The office attire had been jeans and purple Komen Committee T-shirts all week long, but on Saturday, I transitioned from my well-worn purple tee to the pink shirt of survivors. Race Day was one day shy of the six “monthiversary” of my bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction. I put on my pink shirt with a brief wave of emotion at how far I had come.

Shelby and co-intern Lexie pink-ing their hair before dawn on Race day 2015

Shelby and co-intern Lexie pink-ing their hair before dawn on Race day 2015

I was diagnosed with stage one invasive ductal breast cancer on December 19, 2014 while home in St. Louis for winter break during my junior year at Tulane University. I was only 20 years old. My cancer experience has been a lucky one. I did not have to suffer through chemotherapy or radiation. At 21 years old now, I am cancer-free.

Wearing the pink survivor T-shirt was a big step for me. I spent the first few months of 2015 avoiding people. I do not mind talking about my situation, but I struggled to deal with people’s initial reactions. I felt an irrational guilt for watching people worry about me. I would much rather have cancer than have to watch someone I love have cancer. I know my loved ones feel the exact same way about me…they would rather be sick than have me be sick. I dreaded making people think that way.

St. Louis can feel so small to the point of always seeing someone who you know everywhere you go. I was sick of going out and having people ask me why I was not in New Orleans at school. I hated catching people off-guard with some variation of “Oh, yeah I’m not in school this semester because I have breast cancer. How are you?” I was tired of the shock, the sympathy, and the feeling I was ruining someone’s day. I did not want to leave my house.

Survivor Procession at the 2015 Susan G. Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure

Survivor Procession at the 2015 Susan G. Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure

Fast-forward a few months, and I’m leading the survivors’ procession at the Race for the Cure in front of thousands of people and multiple cameras. Helen Chesnut, Komen St. Louis executive director and breast cancer survivor, kindly asked me to join her in leading the procession. I was overwhelmed by the sea of pink-shirted survivors at the Race.

Raising money is not the only thing the Race does for those affected by the disease. The Race provides the opportunity for unity, for support, for awareness, for closure. The Race allowed me to be surrounded by survivors and loved-ones who were filled with conflicting relief, anger, hope, grief, comfort, pain, and resilience just like me. Not one person greeted me with shock or sympathy. I was greeted with immeasurable solidarity. We hugged, we shed tears, we breathed as a unified whole. It was in this moment that I found closure. I finally felt like I could close the short cancer chapter of my life.

It happened. It’s over. I’m standing here. We are standing here.

* * *

Shelby is a senior at Tulane University majoring in public relations and English at the School of Liberal Arts. She is a member of Chi Omega.

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