Hannah Thompson, walking in celebration of her mother, Annemarie Thompson (Survivor since 2007)

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Turning the Corner

by Hannah Thompson

When you hear the words Breast Cancer, there is an immediate negative connotation. A connotation evolving from a terrible sickness that can bring a shadow over many people, directly affected or not. My mother was diagnosed with stage three Breast Cancer in the spring of 2006. I do not remember her entire experience, but now that I am old enough, I can only begin to imagine what it may have been like. As a child I tucked it away, not understanding the severity of the illness. Now at age 16, I can maturely learn about this disease and I can try to understand what it must have been like to fight it. My mom may be cured now, but we will always carry a pink ribbon within us.

I have learned that some people lack the opportunity to see and understand other possible sides of this disease. As I have learned, each person affected by this sickness copes with it in her own way. Some people may break out the books to read up on the research done in attempts to understand what it all means for them. To some of these people, their mindset is that wearing pink won’t find a cure, and we need to use other methods to raise money for a cure to be found. Another way to cope is to fight back with girl power and let your morals kick in. Wearing pink may not find a cure, but it will raise awareness, and with enough awareness, in my mind, there is more of a possibility of finding a cure. Neither of these coping styles are better than the other, and the ways of coping are in no way limited to these two. Now that I am old enough, I choose to cope through the later of the two, and break out my pink.

When I was younger, my exposure to this disease was limited to going to watch my parents in the annual Jimmy Fund Walk, and seeing pictures of my mother’s head wrapped in brightly colored scarves. My brothers and I each have our own small memories that we keep with us from this time in our lives. My youngest brother, Sam, was only in preschool during this time so he spent lots of time at home with my mom. One memory he has is sitting on the kitchen floor with my mom pouring the milk jug together. They sat on the floor because my mom lacked the arm strength needed to lift the jug due to her surgeries, but Sam only knew of his special time with mom.

Now that I am older I am able to see how this illness affects other families, and I can truly understand that bad things happen to really great people and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. When I was in 7th grade I walked in the Runway for Recovery event in Boston with my mom for the first time. I have some memories from that night, but when I walked in it this past October beside my mother, I experienced it from a brand new perspective. I believe this new perspective came from my age as well as more understanding and pure appreciation for still having my mom with me today.

The Runway for Recovery event is a fashion show where survivors walk in celebration, and families walk in remembrance of loved ones who have lost their battles. I am lucky enough to be able to walk beside my mom in celebration of her incredible fight, and I hope to be able to walk with her for many years to come.

Many hours of preparation go into the planning of this night. I only know that of the model’s perspective, but even more goes on behind the scenes. Before the date of the show each model is assigned to a store which acts as a sponsor for the event. Each model then goes to the store and chooses his or her two outfits. These are then sent to the venue.

On the day of the event, the models begin to arrive around four for hair and makeup. I sit in the chair and my hair is whisked into a braided updo, and my natural look is transformed into that of a celebrity. Photos are taken and snacks are given. Dresses are slipped on and hair and makeup take a pause. The order of the models is read out and we assemble in line for the dress rehearsal. This is the hardest and most emotional part of the night for me because I am able to watch and listen as each fighter’s story is projected on a screen above.

As we stand in line along the side of the room, we first listen to two girls speak. The first, Savannah, age 9, talks about how her mother made it through the fight. The second, Brett, age 20, talks about how her mother lost her fight. Both of these girls have experienced this disease first hand. Both of these girls will share the same background and will carry the same memories and emotions with them throughout their lives. And so will I. We watch the projection behind the runway begin tell us the stories of close to 50 survivors and fighters. As each name appears on the screen a series of photos are shown. Each model, or group of kin, take their turn practicing their dance down the runway.

The models are rushed back into the room for finishing touches. Hair is pinned and mascara is reapplied. Everyone begins to get out the nerves that have been building up within us all. My mom, who is not as ecstatic to be on stage as I am, makes sure we have a plan for our dancing well in advance. It’s finally time for the show to begin.

Outside the room, each model’s families and friends are arriving to give support, love, and comfort. Once more we all line up in order, but now we’re backstage. We all become silent and listen with joy as Savannah and Brett speak to the crowd. The music begins and the first models begin their walk down the runway. One by one the line dwindles ahead of us as they change into their second outfit. Finally my mom and I are the ones in front. We are sent down the side of the room to stand behind the makeshift curtain they have created to hide us from the audience. We are next in line. My mom and I look at each other and smile; ready to experience this magical moment together. The previous song is finishing up. The butterflies are leaving and I know I’m ready. I look to my left and my mom is ready too. I take her hand in mine and hold on tight. Three, two, one.

We turn around the curtain onto the stage. I am blinded by the lights. The music, once blaring in my ears, is now quiet. I look over at my mom with a smile from ear to ear. The crowd is clapping and we are the center of attention, they are cheering for us! If I were anywhere else I would be nervous, but being on that stage beside my role model is nothing but fun. We are there to have fun. We are dancing down the runway to have fun and to forget about all that has happened in our past. When I am on that runway I am no place but there. My thoughts are in that exact moment and I am loving it. During our two minutes of time on the runway, I am able to be one hundred percent me. We can dance like nobody’s watching, when really, all eyes are on us. I have found there to be no better feeling in the world than a feeling like that.

Being able to share this event with my mom is one of the most special things in the world. It will forever be a moment that only the two of us will have been able to share together. I feel happy, sad, thankful, amazed, empowered, and love. There is no better combination of feelings a person can feel. Not a single person left that night with a dry eye. I hope that every person has a chance to feel this way at some point in their lives. Looking back now, I know how lucky I am to get to rehearse dance steps with my mom; to get to go dress shopping with my mom, and to get to do everything else that I get to do with her because I know there are girls just like me who were not blessed with the same outcome. I will never forget the feeling I had turning the corner onto that stage, and I know that I could not be luckier to have had my crazy mama dancin’ right there beside me.

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