Sockin’ it to Cancer: Sole Sistas create personalized sock monkeys to raise money for Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure®

dminty@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 1, 2011 

Completing the 60-mile Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure® walk takes soul. Luckily, there’s no shortage of that among the “Sole Sistas.”

Melissa Derby, Tricia Cliatt, Laura Lee, Wanda Amos, Lynn Thompson and Nicole Schuetz plan to participate in the three-day Atlanta event in October. They’ll walk between 14 and 23 miles each day to raise awareness for breast cancer in hopes of finding a cure.

Melissa and Tricia completed the walk last year raising $14,158 for their team, Sweet P. Wanda is also a veteran. She’s walked for the cure in Philadelphia.

The 2010 Atlanta event featured 2,400 walkers, 350 crew members and raised $6.1 million dollars for breast cancer research.

This year, the Sole Sistas have a goal of raising $25,000.

Helping the six women achieve their goal are some surprisingly cute creatures: Sock Monkeys.

Mother-daughter team Lynn and Melissa sell their handmade sock monkeys for $50 each to raise money. Each monkey has its own characteristics and name. Melissa does the sewing and mom Lynn decorates and stylizes the cute critters. They have many favorites, but the team monkeys they created for the Cottonmouths hockey team and the Columbus High School baseball team are especially memorable.

They started making the monkeys in 2009 when they were searching for a theme for a Relay for Life fundraising activity. Lynn recalls brainstorming “Cancer Stinks” and thinking about skunks before settling on “Sock it to Cancer” as a theme and the sock monkey as a mascot.

“The first one was scary, I’d say, but then we perfected it,” Melissa said about the sock monkeys.

They’ve made close to 400 monkeys since, with each monkey’s personality evolving as its created.

Lynn and Melissa admit to working long hours to create the monkeys, but their passion for finding a cure for breast cancer is worth the sleepless nights.

“We’re gonna beat this, we’re gonna beat cancer,” Melissa says.

The walk

Melissa and Tricia described the Atlanta walk as an emotional journey with a celebratory feel.

They know the 60-mile walk will be full of laughter, joy and friendship but they also know there will be moments of sadness and tears shed for those women who have lost their battles with breast cancer.

Walkers will wear every shade of pink imaginable. Some will wear Halloween-type costumes. Some walkers will wear T-shirts featuring photos of friends and relatives who lost their battles with breast cancer. Inspirational slogans will be featured on many outfits. Spectators will cheer on walkers. Even dogs will be in costume.

Breast cancer survivor Tricia calls the experience “unbelievable.”

Melissa said just talking about the camaraderie was giving her chills and Laura, who will walk for the first time, was tearing up just listening to the veteran walkers talk about their experiences.

“Everyone has someone to fight for. I don’t know anyone not affected,” Lynn said. In 2009, her oldest daughter, Jenny Thompson Rothman, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Lynn is grateful that daughter Jenny and friend Tricia are now healthy but as Administrative Director of the St. Francis Center for Breast Health, she knows that the diagnosis forever changes a woman.

“The worrying, the checking. People never lose that thought. Everyday. You live with it the rest of your life.”

Tricia described chemotherapy treatment as especially gruelling and exhausting.

She said the 3-day walk actually gives walkers a perspective of the emotional and physical journey that a woman with breast cancer undergoes.

“The not sleeping, the fatigue, you get a sense of going through chemo,” Tricia said.

After the first day of walking, usually more than 10 miles, “you’re so stiff you can hardly walk,” Tricia said.

It’s friendship and support that gets a woman out of bed to fight cancer for another day or out of her sleeping bag to continue to walk for a cure.

Most walkers spend two nights curled up in sleeping bags at “tent city,” an area filled with pink tents where walkers gather after the first and second days of their journey.

“What really brings you close is sleeping at tent city.” Tricia joked.

Though sleeping -- or not sleeping -- on the ground is something the women are opting out of this year.

Thanks to Laura’s husband, the Sole Sistas will be picked up after the first and second days and dropped off a hotel where they’ll sleep in comfortable beds and possibly soak their sore muscles in the bathtub. Early the next morning, the women will report back to Tent City to continue the walk.

“Tent City is great when you do it the first time,” Melissa said.

No one expects to miss it this year.

Wanda is looking forward to “talking to people and meeting people along the way.” She found a true spirit of sisterhood emerge when she walked in Philadelphia. Women were helping each other, encouraging each other and laughing together. Wanda gave her knee brace to a woman who was struggling with an injury.

The Sole Sistas hope to walk most of their 60 miles together but for the final stretch, Tricia will break away to join other breast cancer survivors in a victorious finish.

On the final day of the walk, the survivors wear matching T-shirts and hold their hands and their heads high as they take their final steps to reach 60 miles.

Melissa said it’s a powerful and emotional moment when the survivors unite. “You think you’re OK, and then you just lose it.” Melissa said.

The past and the future

It was just 40 years ago that a breast cancer diagnosis was often a death sentence, Lynn said.

“We want to get together and raise awareness because it is curable now,” she said. She points to early detection, advanced equipment and supportive family and friends as reasons more and more women are beating breast cancer.

She said in 2010, the St. Francis Breast Care Center performed more than 11,000 mammograms, which are key to finding and treating breast cancer early when women have the best chances for complete recovery.

Wanda was particularly pleased to hear that so many mammograms were being performed. The Amos family contributed the money that helped build the center. The donation was made in honor of Wanda’s mother-in-law, the late Elena Diaz-Verson Amos.

“I didn’t think I’d ever have to use it,” Wanda said.

She learned first-hand the value of her family’s contribution when she had a biopsy last year.

Wanda was not diagnosed with cancer but the situation gave her a new perspective and admiration for her mother-in-law, whose goal was to ensure that “everybody can have the same treatment regardless of money.”

That’s a goal that Wanda, Melissa, Lynn, Tricia, Nicole and Laura share as Sole Sistas.

“It’s really in your soul if you fight for this,” Melissa said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE WALK AND SOCK MONKEYS:

Find the group’s page on Facebook by searching on Sock it to Cancer. Donate to the team by choosing Sole Sistas at www.the3day.org. Make sure you click on the team registered for the Atlanta walk. For more information, e-mail the team at thederbyfour@knology.net.

For details about the walk and breast cancer research, visit komen.org or call 1-877-GO KOMEN

MELISSA’S REASONS TO WALK:

“I walk because I can. I am strong because the journey demands it. Together in body and united in soul and spirit, the Sole Sistas will lay down their footsteps for this generation and the next. Soul to sole we promise: A world without breast cancer.

In 2009, one devastating blow suddenly became two when my sister and then my beast friend were diagnosed with breast cancer. I decided right away that while I could be there for them I could also do something bigger, something to make a difference. Signing up for the Susan G. Komen 3-day for the Cure takes quite a bit of faith in yourself. Sixty miles in three days seems impossible but year one was indescribable as I walked for them, year two walking with my best friend and survivor by my side was quite simply in one word: AWESOME and this year with my mom by my side walking for my sister will prove to be the best.”

LYNN’S REASONS TO WALK:

“My reasons for walking are varied. I am in a position with my job to assist patients with access and direct them toward assistance if necessary. I see so many patients on a daily basis that find themselves not knowing which way to turn so any assistance that I can provide to them is greatly appreciated.

From a personal standpoint my oldest daughter was diagnosed in 2009 with breast cancer and to share the emotions, help with the decisions gives you a whole new perspective.

Lastly, I am of the age (don’t tell anyone) that my friends and acquaintances are affected as well as my children’s friends and unfortunately some have been lost to the disease.

I feel it is an honor to walk in honor of and in memory of those I have known, know now or will know in the future. They are all very special people to be honored and remembered.

TRICIA’S REASONS TO WALK:

“Come July 2011, I will be a two-year survivor! Stepping back in time to July 2009, when I should have been planning my summer vacation, breast cancer came calling instead. At first I found myself asking “why me?” then I wondered “why not me?” If I have learned anything over the last two years it is that CANCER does not define me. Each day is different and because of my journey with cancer I am a STRONGER person inside and out. I have learned that it is okay to have good and bad days, because after chemotherapy all of your brain cells fall to the wayside and some days simply do not go as planned. Last year I took the journey of a lifetime and walked 60 miles in 3 days with three close friends. I consider this experience to be one of the best in my life so when my best friend asked me if I was up for it again I said YES! I will walk for friends, family, mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts who have battled this disease and once again prove that I am a SURVIVOR who can walk 60 miles in three days with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart for a CURE!!

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