Thomasville woman goes the distance to fight breast cancer

Dec. 16, 2013 @ 01:00 AM

Fourteen miles into what was to be a 60-mile journey, Karen Palmer’s left hamstring began to cramp, and she couldn’t make it stop.
For at least eight months, the 33-year-old Thomasville woman had been preparing for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day in Washington, D.C., a three-day, 60-mile walk to raise money for breast cancer research. She had raised more than $6,700 and had been training for months to ready her body for such a challenging undertaking.
And now, as she sloughed through the 15th mile of day one, a single, uncooperative tendon was threatening to shut her down.
“No amount of stretching would loosen it up,” Palmer recalls. “Five miles to go, and I’m soaking wet, slowing down with a limp, and wondering if I can finish.”
That’s when she met Mary, a cheerful woman twice her age — not to mention a 13-year breast cancer survivor participating in her ninth 3-Day — and she remembered why she was walking.
“I figured if Mary could do it, then so could I,” Palmer says.
And she did just that, ignoring her sore leg long enough to finish those first 20 miles.
Palmer, an inpatient care specialist at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center, was one of the approximately 1,000 participants in the walk, which took place Oct. 11-13. The Washington event was one of more than a dozen 3-Day walks held in 2013.
“I had always wanted to do something like this because of my mom and her history of breast cancer, to support her and support the cause,” Palmer says.
Palmer’s mother, Sue Wood, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She underwent two surgeries and radiation therapy, and has been cancer-free for more than seven years.
Palmer decided early in the year she would walk in the Washington event, and she immediately began fundraising.
“You have to raise at least $2,300 to even be able to participate, so that’s what I worked on first over the spring and summer,” she says, explaining that her fundraising efforts included a bake sale and a raffle — both of which included items donated by individuals and local businesses — and a few other smaller projects.
“Then, beginning in the summer, I started to focus on walking,” Palmer continues. “I was already getting exercise during the week, but I started adding as much extra walking as possible. Within one to two months before the 3-Day, I made sure I got in a couple of walks that were 10 miles or more to get used to the distance as much as possible.”
The walk itself was challenging. In addition to the heavy rains that continued well into day two of the event, Palmer’s tight hamstring also returned for a second day, despite a visit to the physical therapist. By lunchtime, she was seriously contemplating waving down the van for struggling walkers.
“Something magical happened after lunch,” Palmer says. “The sun came out and my leg finally stopped hurting.”
She finished the walk without further damage, except for a small blister that popped up on one of her toes — but, as she saw on some other walkers’ T-shirts, “Blisters Don’t Need Chemo.”
The walk had added meaning for Palmer, because her mother — who lives in Kentucky — was in Washington volunteering at the event, so the two women were able to spend some time together in the evenings.
As was the case for many participants, the 3-Day walk was an emotional journey for Palmer.
“Especially in those moments when I was by myself, I found myself thinking about all these people who had come there, and how amazing it was learning their stories,” she says. “And then, of course, thinking about my mom and other special women in my life who have been touched by breast cancer. That really helped me keep going when my leg was hurting.”
Palmer suspects she’ll do another 3-Day walk at some point.
“It’s such an amazing, life-changing event that I would definitely want to do it again,” she says. “But I would want to do it with friends or family. I would want to get more people involved, so they can share the experience and see how amazing it is.”
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579