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At the top of the list of my 2013 vision board –

a list of goals and plans on how to achieve them – is participating in the
Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

By Nneka Samuel



Raising $1,800 and walking 39 miles over the course of two days would have been seemingly impossible prior to the passing of my grandmother, Marion Gaines.  Grandma had always been good at defeating the odds.  Despite being blind and diabetic for most of her adult life, she maintained her independence, living on her own with the aid of her children and home attendants. After losing her apartment to a devastating fire, she started over at an age when starting over is virtually unheard of.  Through it all, Grandma was never bitter and never wanted anyone to feel sorry for her.  I chalked it up to the New Yorker in her, but it was much more than that.  With her gracious spirit and beautiful faith, my grandmother was stronger than she knew.  But there was one thing she couldn’t beat – breast cancer.  As I’ve painfully learned, the disease can strike anyone at any age, but people over 50 account for 76% of cases.  My grandmother was 82 when she lost her battle to breast cancer last June, seven short months after being diagnosed.  I walk in her memory.


Getting started, however, wasn’t easy.  I live in Los Angeles, a city where most people walk only to get to their car.  Thankfully the Avon Foundation has provided me with a coach who calls ever so often to ask about my progress and offer assistance in any way she can.  They’ve even put me in touch with fellow walkers who live in my area.  In an age when there never seems to be enough time, we manage to train together, swap stories and encourage one another.  When I registered for the walk, I also received a welcome package containing a sample training plan, fundraising tips and a dvd filled with tear-jerking stories.  I immediately felt like a part of a community, a wellness village aimed at providing a cure for this debilitating disease.

Equally important to the physical training is mental training.  The walls of my bathroom are lined with inspirational quotes.  One of my favorites is from author Les Brown: “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.”  It’s a wonderful thing to keep in mind when negative, I-can’t-do-this thoughts rear their ugly heads.  And if that doesn’t work, nothing drowns out negativity like hearing Michael Jackson sing mama say mamasay mamasa mamakusa on my iPod.  I’m working up the courage to listen to a recording of my grandmother singing her favorite song, “What A Wonderful World.”

I also recognize the importance of being kind to myself and accepting my limitations.  Despite what my over-achieving brain tells me, I’m no Allyson Felix.  In fact, I’ve never been very sportive so I set small, attainable goals.  3 miles one day.  Rest the next.  5 miles the day after, and so on.  Sometimes I fall off the wagon but I get right back up when I remember who I’m doing this for: Grandma.  The Avon Breast Cancer Walk is aimed at providing medical research, clinical care and support services for women across the country.  They pay special attention to minorities, the elderly, the poor and the medically underserved.  Women like my grandmother.  Her courage fuels me and I hope that she’s proud of me.


About Nneka Samuel
Nneka Samuel is a Washington, D.C. native now living in L.A.  She received her MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA and is currently adapting the book “Better Than I Know Myself” into a feature film.  To contribute to her Avon Breast Cancer Walk journey, visit her personal page at Avonwalk.org.

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