Participants in the annual Fran Delisle Cancer Awareness Walk stroll alongside the Taiya River on June 2. PHOTOS BY ALYSSA DE ANGELUS

A long walk made easier with others


I had the perfect plan – look straight ahead and act like a cold-hearted reporter. Nobody likes cold-hearted reporters, right?

My camera lens was going to be my camouflage for the day, and I would just hide in the sea of walkers, on the off chance that I shed a tear or two along the trail.

As we began to load the buses, however, I flashed a quick, automatic smile at two little boys circling around their mother’s legs in a fastflash game of tag when I looked up and had accidentally locked eyes with someone much closer to my age.

I couldn’t pretend any longer. I almost immediately blurted out what had been bothering me all along.

Just under 24 hours before I arrived to the Elks for registration I received word from my father that my grandmother’s newly diagnosed cancer was an aggressive form of metastatic melanoma. Two hours later I received a second call, only this time my grandmother was laying completely still in a hospital bed in Northern Virginia.

That’s how quick cancer can get you – 10 awfully sudden days to reconcile with family and friends and a lifetime of questions to the people left on Earth. Looking around the bus I watched a kid in front of me dance in her seat with a blanket in one hand and a pegasus stuffed animal in the other.

She was enthusiastically telling the other kids, “We get to ride the car when we get tired!” Some of the other kids were even cheering about getting a free banana at one of the rest stations. I spotted a dog in my left peripheral view and a grandmother on the right side of the bus gripping her grandchild’s ankle with a breast cancer bracelet around her wrist.

My tears yo-yoed out and then back in just as quickly as I had changed my perspective. I missed the days where I just thought pink was a pretty color and not a symbol of support for my mom’s swing at breast cancer. Colors used to be fun.

We got off the bus and as my feet hit the ground I noticed the overcast but vibrant sky. About a mile into the walk I watched an eagle soar over the skyline and just for a second I considered the possibility that the beautiful, majestic bird was my grandmother.

I know it sounds silly but it helped for a little bit.

My new friend, Shari French, stuck by me for the rest of trail and we talked more or less about normal things.

For seven miles I admired the naivety of the kids gallivanting along the rocks and I appreciated the scenery, but most of all I understood the need for the spirit underlying these walks. Now losing one of my favorite people to the fight, I imagined that hope and joy would only infuriate me and provoke pain, but I was thankful that others were positive for me that day.

At about the fourth mile I considered a less marginalized reality. In a sense, we are all cancer survivors.

Almost anyone and everyone has been touched by cancer.  Some people get by with just a brush and others are consumed with an audible and brutal smack to the face, but regardless, we must push forward and we must do so with hope.

As I walked back to the Elks Lodge for a post-walkathon brunch  Shari and I sat down next to event organizers Leah Mauldin and Barb Broderson for a little pasta salad and pizza.

Barb grabbed my hand, smiled and told me, “Alyssa, thank you for jumping into Skagway with both feet.” I knew she was talking about my reporting but I couldn’t help but note the irony in her statement.

There’s a window of time after receiving bad news where you can either choose to get better or you inadvertently start to get worse. In order to take a step in the right direction you’ve got to get out of bed and let your feet carry the weight of life.

I got out of bed that day with both feet on the ground.

Thank you to all of the walkers in attendance. I just thought you all should know that at least one person was helped on Saturday morning.