In Her Shoes
In all my thoughtful preparations for the Nashville Inspirational Country Music (ICM) Awards, I hadn’t anticipated the wave of emotion in putting on a breast cancer “survivor” t-shirt. The attire was surprisingly casual for this grand event—jeans and survivor t-shirts. Attendees were encouraged to “bling” it out with boots and accessories, and my custom made Pink-ribbon cowgirl boots were the perfect bling-wear!
Since December 2008, I’ve been walking closely beside survivors—beginning with my best friend, Vicki’s diagnosis. Successively writing Little Pink Books through a child’s eyes has given me another view inside the bitter-sweet journey. The words “breast cancer” often conjure up emotions equating to a difficult and bitter journey. It’s not a journey anyone would choose—yet 1 in 8 women (plus 1 in 1000 men), will endure it. And of those diagnosed, 1 in 36 women will lose their lives to the disease.
Paradoxically, a sweet side of the journey through breast cancer has also been revealed to me. Survivors have shared countless blessings received in the midst of their struggle. Gaining an eye for everyday miracles is one such blessing—seeing things often unnoticed before cancer. Through survivors I’ve learned to treat each day as a gift, meant to be unwrapped with intention. Learning to be intent about life makes you a grateful and willing instrument for God, and a carrier of amazing hope.
As I’ve taken in their stories, I’ve gained the honor of being their “pink voice.” They’ve taught me more than I ever imagined, allowed me to “sing” their stories, and welcomed me in as their advocate. Survivors are my teachers and they’re my unsung heroes. Attending the ICM Awards as a sponsor meant walking the Pink Carpet with 85 survivors from the Middle Tennessee YMCA After Breast Cancer (ABC) program. Walking with them also meant putting on a “survivor” t-shirt. To me, putting on that t-shirt took me out of my familiar role. I was no longer walking beside my unsung heroes; I was walking in their shoes.
Tears flowed down my cheeks as I put that t-shirt over my head. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by this pink path and all it had brought to my life. Confusion, doubt and fear overwhelmed me to the core; I didn’t feel worthy to wear that t-shirt. I’d walked next to them, but I hadn’t walked in their shoes. As quickly as those thoughts flooded in, they were interrupted by the sound of my best friend’s voice. “But you are a co-survivor!” Vicki’s sweet words were like music to my ears. More tears poured down my cheeks—as her words filled me with worthiness and courage to wear that “survivor” t-shirt.
Inside every book tour, there are big and small moments. Attending the ICM awards was filled with BIG moments! Meeting Sonya Issacs, the author of the song “I’m Gonna Love You through It” (sung by Martina McBride) was certainly a big moment. And hearing The Issacs sing it onstage was an added blessing! Meeting artist Lee Greenwood was another big moment—sharing my gratitude for his song, “God Bless the USA” and his support of our troops. Receiving the November issue of PowerSource magazine that evening, seeing my published article alongside the ABC Program feature, and knowing its impending distribution within the country music industry was an exciting big moment.
Just one month prior, I’d been invited to the Christian Country Music Association’s (CCMA) office to introduce myself and my Little Pink Books. A single glimpse of When Your Mom Has Cancer inside Martina McBride’s music video had brought a singing voice to my children’s book. However, it was two angels who opened the ICM director’s door; I’m enormously grateful to Sharon Spears and Jennifer Stuart for arranging that meeting. An added blessing came in that meeting: VIP tickets for all survivors in Melanie Cavender’s ABC Program. I’m also thankful to Gene Higgins, Jason Higgins, Ray Hensen and Amber Abendroth at CCMA for generously providing those VIP survivor seats, sharing the spotlight, and allowing me to be part of the 17th Annual Inspirational Country Music Awards. In support of community, the ICM awards also directly benefited the Tennessee Breast Cancer Coalition.
Small, yet integral moments graced my path to the ICM awards. As if by perfect design, the contributors of When Your Mom Has Cancer accompanied me to the show. Sales of the book directly benefit the ABC Program, so it was an absolutely perfect blessing for survivors of that program to attend with me! When neither my illustrator nor my husband could attend, I naturally offered my 2nd VIP ticket to my dear friend Tina Henderson, whose chemotherapy journals helped my writing of the book.
Alongside Tina came my best friend, Vicki Kennedy (and her husband, Tony), with whom this Little Pink Book journey began; and my Foreword writer, Dr Rebecca Baskin, a survivor and Vicki’s breast surgeon. Like a perfect fit for the occasion, our ride to the awards was provided by Middle Tennessee Christian School. My first book, When Your Teacher Has Cancer began there, as a gift inside Vicki’s 2nd grade classroom. Bringing ABC program survivors aboard that school bus was like a coming home of sorts—putting us in a child’s realm, embarking on a whimsical ride! Huge hugs to our expert bus driver, Sherry Layland.
Many of my book-fans knew I’d been searching for the woman holding my book in Martina McBride’s video. Typical of friends in my “Pink-roots,” Murfreesboro resident Bill Peters did some clever online research that led to Taira Baughman. The day before my travel to Nashville, I connected with her over the phone and learned the story behind my book being in Martina’s video. Through the ICM marketing director, I received tickets for Taira and her family.
Upon arriving in Murfreesboro, a lunch date with Taira was packed with moments big and small. Hearing her journey through breast cancer, getting to thank her for sharing my book inside Martina’s video, learning that Sonya Issacs had dedicated the song to her own mother—and gifted it to Taira before release, and meeting her husband Rob & son Braydon were all connected small moments of big hope!
Then, as if in concert with other amazing moments in this Little Pink Book journey, Taira’s 3-year old son, Braydon provided my biggest moment of all. Seeing Braydon’s tattered copy of When Your Mom Has Cancer, made me realize that Taira hadn’t simply shared my book inside that video because it meant something to her. She shared it because it meant the world to her little boy. He’d obviously read and reread that book, and carried it many other places besides Martina’s video shoot. That moment was huge for me…my heart felt as though it melted inside my chest. I realized that Braydon had walked beside his Mommy in her cancer, just as I had been walking beside others. Braydon is a co-survivor too, worthy of wearing the t-shirt!
Once again, I returned from Murfreesboro packed with overflowing gratitude, love and hope. I returned with some extra baggage too; five copies of my book When Your Mom Has Cancer, autographed by the ICM award nominees and performers! I don’t know where the Pink Carpet will lead me next. But, I have faith that I’m headed down a path of blessing—filled with big and small moments. God bless my unsung heroes who open my eyes to everyday miracles and the infectious quality of hope. I’m forever grateful and I love you all.
Maryann Makekau, Author & Inspirational Speaker