Within six weeks, Melissa Derby’s sister and best friend were both diagnosed with breast cancer.
Though she’d always wanted to walk in the Breast Cancer 3-Day, an annual event benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure, now she had a compelling reason.
“There was no question,” said the 43-year-old Columbus-native. “I said ‘I’m gonna do it, and I can do it. I can walk and I can raise money to make sure my nieces never have to go through this.’”
The 2009 Breast Cancer 3-Day started at the end of July and has been taking place in various cities around the country each weekend. It comes to Atlanta Oct. 23-25. The 60-mile walk will begin at Lake Lanier and end at Turner Field. Participants walk an average of 20 miles each day.
“It’s a commitment,” said Derby, noting the $2,300 minimum fundraising requirement.
She sent out over 100 letters to friends and family, explaining what she was doing and who she was doing it for.
“Those letters had not been out a day and I already had $500,” Derby said. “I was just shocked. And then I got to the $2,300. And then I got to $3,000 and then $5,000 and now I’m nearly at $8,000.”
While raising money was surprisingly easy, training has been a challenge.
“You can’t just get up and walk 20 miles a day for three days,” Derby said. “So the training’s been hard.”
Prior to committing to the Breast Cancer 3-Day, Derby had worked out at Curves. At the end of July she started walking and training, covering up to 12 miles at a time.
While she hasn’t yet walked 20 miles in one day, “I know I can do it,” she said. “I have no question that I can do it.”
And she won’t be doing it alone. Her sister-in-law, Lisa Derby, will be joining her on the three-day journey.
“I’ve had overwhelming support of family and friends and it’s just been a blessing,” said Derby. “Truly, I’ve been overwhelmed by it.”
The two women will have raised over $10,000 combined for breast cancer research.
The most important aspect of the walk is finding a cure for breast cancer “and (creating) enough awareness for people to get their yearly mammograms and to do their self breast exams,” said Derby. “Those two things can save your life.”
Derby’s sister, Jenny Rothman, and her friend, Tricia Cliatt, have both undergone surgery and are “doing great,” Derby said. Rothman has another surgery scheduled the day before the 3-Day begins and Cliatt is going through chemotherapy treatment.
“The hardest part through the entire thing is my friend losing her hair,” said Derby. “For me and for her. It’s such a part of you and then not to have it has been very stressful.”
When Derby let Rothman and Cliatt know she would be walking for them, they were both in disbelief.
“Neither ... my sister or my friend could believe I was doing it for them,” she said. “They were so overwhelmed with the fact that I wanted to do it. That it was for them.”
Rothman sat down and cried when she received a letter from Derby explaining her intent.
Derby hopes that Rothman and Cliatt will feel well enough to make it to Turner Field on Oct. 25, the end point of the 60-mile walk.
All the walkers gather outside the stadium and enter as a group, greeted by their friends and family.
There will be 30 people waiting for Derby and Lisa, all wearing their team shirt with the slogan “Some of us have to fight, some of us have to walk, but we all do it together — without looking back.”
“I’ve heard it’s the most moving and emotional experience that I will ever have,” said Derby. “And so I’m a little nervous about it because I don’t know what to expect.
“(I feel like) it will change me as a person. I really do.”
Despite her nerves, Derby plans to participate in the Breast Cancer 3-Day for years to come. She’s hoping next year Rotham and Cliatt will feel well enough to join her in Atlanta. But after that, she might start traveling.
“I will do it again,” Derby said. “Absolutely. And I might pick another city. I may go to California and do it!”