The Three Day for Breast Cancer

Legendary bluesman Son Seals once said, when asked to describe the blues, that as a child he often did childish things. He had childish thoughts and said childish things. But, when he became an adult, Son Seals admitted, the childish aspects of his life melted away and the only things left of him were hope, faith and love.

Hope, faith and love. The essence of the blues; where others heard sadness and depression in the smoky minor chord guitar licks, Son Seals heard the sounds of a yearning optimism. He heard the sounds of dignity and the end of human suffering.

I’d like to believe that hope, faith and love are all we need. In many ways the Arkansas-born, Chicago bluesman Son Seals isn?t too different from Donna Bashford.

Because during one of the darkest times in her life, her fight against Breast Cancer, Bashford?s survival is a testament to her hope and faith; her current calling to raise money for Breast Cancer research is a testament to love, so that others will not be faced with losing a loved one.

This weekend Bashford will be in Boston to take part in the annual Breast Cancer Three Day Walk to raise money for the Susan G. Koman Foundation. Her dedication, and those of so many women like her, should not go unnoticed or unrecognized.


Donna and Jeff Bashford

Those silent heroes who persevere in the face of adversity, who live to make a difference and inspire others around them to not give up, to live and fight another day, to be thankful and loving and cherish each moment; because they know that, despite surviving themselves, the fight to cure Breast Cancer is far from over.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2007 there will be more than 178,000 women diagnosed with the disease (2,000 men as well) and sadly, almost 40,500 mothers, daughters and wives will lose their own heroic struggle.

In many ways, Donna Bashford is an unassuming woman. She is delightful. Not in a condescending way, like ?oh isn?t she delightful,? but in an honest-to-goodness way. One can?t help but feel the tension and stress drain from their soul when talking with her or standing by her. She carries her soul in a way which connotes blissfulness. One gets the sense that she is at peace and this merely helps others feel the same way. It was not always like this.

We sat down with Donna Bashford, a New Bern, NC resident to talk about hope, faith, love, saving the ?ta-ta?s?, her survival, long-distance walking in general, and this weekend?s three day walk. [If you’d like to make a donation to her campaign, please visit here]

How long have you been cancer free?

Three years this past April 30. I was first diagnosed in 2004. It was my annual mammogram and they caught it early. The doctor said I could wait two years because I didn?t have any risk factors. I had a friend who waited and look what happened to her. Two years might have made a difference. I was very polite and very quickly said no thanks.

That quite possibly saved my life. After I was diagnosed there were about four people who had been putting it off and I told them to get one right away. Part of being a survivor is to get people to do a mammogram. I didn?t have a family history of Breast Cancer and come to find out most women who get Breast Cancer have no history at all. Some feel a lump. There was no lump to feel because it was so early.

You must have been pretty scared when you got such unexpected news?

I think I just kind of felt like my breath was taken away. I was like that doesn?t make any sense. I had a hard time believing it. If it was any other kind of cancer . . . [her voice trails off into a thought]

Within three hours I had a biopsy scheduled. I had to come up stairs and tell Jeff [her husband]. I thought something good was going to come out of it. I knew it was early and I was like I?m not going to die. I went upstairs to tell Jeff and started to look to God to how this was going to turn good.

The low point came about a month after being diagnosed. I went to my oncology appointment and he laid out the statistics and it hit me that I have cancer and the reality of it sunk in. He was very clear, he wasn?t talking about whether I was going to live or die but how to not have it recur. I think I was pretty positive, and have a nice selective memory. I remember early on, I remember thinking it can?t be as bad as mom.

How so?

I?d just watched my mother die a slow and awful death from Alzheimer?s and that was the hardest two years of my life. If this was the only scary thing in my life, Breast Cancer, I was thinking this was going to be a five out of ten. Which some think is crazy, but that?s just my perspective.

You mentioned turning to God. How did this impact your relationship with God and your faith in general?

I was pretty much an only child and it was just three of us, my parents and I. But then losing my parents, there?s a sense of truly being alone from a blood relationship. I only had one grandparent as well.

My dad was a Methodist and my grandma was a devout Catholic and I spent a lot of time in the Catholic Church. I went to college at Emory in Atlanta and there?s a Methodist Church there.

You know, as an adult it?s huge. When we moved to New Bern in 1999, the community it was the first place we ever lived we were had neighbors that were friends and a church that took us on as a family. I think of them as my family and even though they?re not blood family. Here we were away from our family, we?d just lost all of our parents. This was home and it felt like that way for the both of us. Jeff sings in the choir.

In Connecticut, when I was getting treatment, we were away from our New Bern family and that was tough for Jeff and I. The people in New Bern were like why didn?t you get [Breast Cancer] here when we could have taken care of you. I?m not saying life is always rosie, but if I keep saying it, I think it?ll happen.

So you moved back to Connecticut for treatment? How did that work out?

We moved to Connecticut in March 2003, but it wasn?t until a year later that I was diagnosed. They called me two weeks before Lauren?s wedding and I had [my mammogram] the Tuesday after Lauren and Jon got married and I remember thinking it would be hard to keep this off my mind during the wedding. But luckily it happened over their honeymoon. It was one of those God things.

[In the interest of full-disclosure, it should now be noted that Donna Bashford is my sister?s mother-in-law, or step-mother-in-law. I?m not quite sure of the semantics of the titles, but regardless, Donna Bashford is married to my brother-in-laws father. It sounds all so complicated, but it?s really not. She?s Donna, what more do you need? The Lauren she refers to is, of course, my sister.]

Tell me about your treatment for Breast Cancer.

Sure. Well, first of all I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcenoma In Situ. It was contained and not invasive yet. I was 42 when I was diagnosed. I can?t even begin to say how much getting checked every year is important. If I could stress one thing this would be it. It doesn?t take much, but it?s so important.

I had a lumpectomy and radiation and tomixin. I take two pills everyday. It?s a medication that blocks the estrogen receptors. It would be like putting fuel in the fire, so they block the estrogen. I have two years left. I?ve been taking the pills for three years now.

In my heart I know it won?t come back, but I know that it could come back. So I?m very vigilant. I see doctors twice a year.

I don?t know if I could tell you it won?t come back, but there?s that chance of it coming back in a different way. Doctors won?t ever tell you you?re cured, they?ll tell you you?re in remission. Most days of my life I don?t ever think about it.

That must feel good. So how did you become involved with the Three Day Walk?

Well, I began walking right away. When I?m walking, that?s when I think about the possibility of remission. I?m fighting when I walk. So that if I do get it, I?ll never be able to say at least I didn?t try.

When I was diagnosed I went to all the websites to gather as much information about treatment as I could. But then I saw something on a website about the Three Day and I wondered what is this? Jeff and I went to Hartford to check it out and I knew immediately that I wanted to give something back and it was because of the research that had been done before that saved my life. And a lot of that research money comes from these courageous women walking and raising money.

When was the first year you participated in the Three Day?

The first year was in 2005 for the Atlanta Three Day. I did that in 2005 and 2006. I decided to do all twelve, which isn?t physical it?s financial. It?s tough to do all twelve in one year, it?s tough to do all twelve over a period of time. So I thought I?d do two per year and spread them out over the years. The plan is to walk one and crew the other. As I recruited people for the team they all said they?d walk wherever I?m walking, and this year Boston was it.

What do you mean by crew?

Each three day takes about 400 crew members to volunteer to cook, clean, or medical to make sure the walkers are able to do what they do. It?s amazing, you show up Friday morning and every need is taken care of for three days.

Do you train for this? And I?m curious about your team?

They have a training guideline to ramp you up for the walk. You just can?t show up. They get you ready in stretching, knowing your body, the mental and physical preparation. If you do your thing you are most likely to be successful.

I?m doing a three or four mile walk this morning. I walk an average of four days a week and do some cross training two days a week. Mostly step aerobics and then walking.

The most they have is a back to back 18 mile walk and then a 15 mile walk the next day. I?ve already plotted my back to backs. It helps to prepare your body to walk long distances over a few days.

One of the girls on the team trained with me last year and she became my long walking partner. You have to train 100 miles to walk 60. But it?s easy to get people to train with me. A lot of people walking with me are friends and church members. One of the girls is the daughter of a good friend and she?s from Philadelphia. She is the one person who doesn?t live in North Carolina. The first year I did this by the time I did the actual three day walk I had walked 460 miles.

That?s the key, starting early enough. I didn?t have any idea. I didn?t have any idea when I started this. You can go there prepared and still be injured.

A big part of this, well, the main reason, maybe outside the camaraderie of the event, is to raise money for Breast Cancer research and certainly to raise awareness to prevent it. What are you doing to raise money and how does that aspect of this walk play into the scheme of things? You know, in terms of having to raise a certain amount or whatnot.

You have to raise a minimum of $2,200 just to participate in the walk and my goal was $3,000; the first year I was blessed enough to raise $5,000. [editors note: this year she has raised to date $3, 670] We held a silent auction to get to our team goal of $15,000. A pizza chain, CiCi?s Pizza donated 10% of their proceeds every Friday night for three months. And they have a booth set up for breast cancer awareness.

Wow, so it?s not just your friends and family, you?ve really thought about some big corporate sponsors.

My thinking was if I?m going to doing I was thinking about a larger streamline of money, you can only go to friends and family so much and I?m looking at this for the next six years. I was thinking about corporate sponsors.

Most people are quick to participate because they?ve been touched with Breast Cancer. This is our first auction, so we?re excited. 100% of my fundraising has come from online letters so far. You can look online and see were you?re doing and send out thank you notes to people. The first year about 80% of my fundraising was done that way.

Talk about the silent auction because that seems to be a huge thing you did on your own and something you should be proud of,

Sure. The Silent Auction has grown into a big event. It just keeps growing and people are donating all sorts of things. It was held May 18 at the Teaburn Club House. We had all sorts of gifts from golf clubs, rounds of golf, day trips to Cape Lookout, some free teeth whitening, jewelry, pottery, hand crafted wood items, candles and Mary Kay stuff, wine baskets, christening gowns, a little bit of everything. Lots of little things and some high end stuff too. Like a quail hunt or dinners for two. Some nice hand made stuff. Lots of quality items.

How did it go?

The fundraiser was fabulously successful. I think we all thought we?d try it again. If there is a team next year we?ll raise lots of money.

You want to create a bidding war, cause the money is going towards a cause and you get some healthy competition for two hours and you hope there?s some good fun competition at least for a couple of items.

The auction, we had over 50 items and people started calling to donate stuff and there were 17 raffles items. It worked out really well. You can make a lot of money off a raffle ticket. We sold $700 worth of raffle tickets, that day. You learn the things that are popular. It was well attended by about 70 people.

We did these ?Pink Commercials,? with framed Breast Cancer facts throughout the floor and then we would quiz people throughout the night and if they got the question right then we?d give them a free movie rental or something.

And we had a 42 year survivor there and everyone got into recognizing people and sharing their stories of survival.

Any downsides?

Not really. But the feedback from people was that we should have charged more and had a ticket price to invite people. You know, we?re looking at doing a yearly event. We?re not sure what yet, maybe like a game night or a pampering night. There are some neat ideas being tossed around.

I?m gonna have to find some other ways to raise money and I?m real excited about some long term stuff, year after year, and it gets the community involved and that?s been a real affirmation for me that it?s working out that way.

What else have you been doing to raise money?

We held a ?Go Pink Day? at a local saloon. Back on June 1. They wanted to support us, typical for those saloons, they matched tips and some of the stylists take care of women with chemo, so they made up t-shirts. We raised 700 bucks. More than that, though, it was a good opportunity to talk about awareness.

We made pink T-Shirts with ?Save the ta-tas? across the front. And the pizza place was averaging about 100 dollars every Friday night.

Sounds like you?ve got everything covered. Is there anything you?re still worried about leading up to the event?

There is one girl who signed up late and I?m worried about her fundraising and some folks need to get along with their training but they assured me they?ll be fine.

Other than that?

There?s the anxiety of finding hotels and making details. There is a difference between enjoying the three day and surviving the three day. Surviving it doesn?t make you inclined to come back the next year. You should feel exhilarated and be excited to do it the next year. I want my teammates to not be hurt and want to do something similar to this. I feel like it?s my responsibility to get them prepared but I can?t put their shoes on every morning and make them go walk.

Lastly, is there anything you?ve learned in your experience you?d like to share with everyone?

Definitely. There are way too many women who get Breast Cancer in their early years, but they need to be vigilant about it. If I can get one woman from this interview to get a breast exam and have them be vigilant about it, then I?ll have done some good.

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