2013 KAT-Walk & Karo-5K

After months of planning, fundraising, publicity, and hard labor, the morning of September 7, 2013 arrived with anticipations high and temperatures low. As the sun gradually warmed our faces, our hearts were enveloped in the warmth of compassion, community, and accomplishment throughout the day.

As it was for me last year, I was again struck by the number of people from out of state and locally who have been touched by brain aneurysms who chose our event to honor themselves, a loved one, or friend.

The KAT-Walk was originally started by a small group of people wishing to honor and remember the shining star of our lives, Kimberly Tudor who we lost at the age of 32 to a ruptured brain aneurysm. Those of you who knew Kim know the number of adjectives to describe her are limitless. Her loss, at such a young age, was very difficult and finding some way to DO something was very important.

At the time, there were no social events or groups in Maine specifically related to brain aneurysms. A walk along the Back Cove, where Kim enjoyed walking herself, seemed a wonderful way for us to be together and celebrate her life, as well as educating the public about brain aneurysms.

Because I had survived my own ruptured brain aneurysm two years prior to Kim’s death and I was dealing with my issues and demons as a result, the planning, advertising, and discussions for the walk were difficult for me…as well as everyone else. But we felt it was important and it became a real labor of love.

Our original event planned by a small group to honor OUR loved one, has turned into such a bigger event than any of us could have imagined. Those of us who knew Kim, will always know the KAT-Walk is in HER honor, and there is a natural ebb and flow to the amount of participation among Kim’s friends and family that is inevitable at an event like this.

I know the Susan G. Komen breast cancer events started in memory of Susan, but the events themselves have become a gathering place for survivors, friends, and families from all over who have been touched by breast cancer. They never knew Susan, worked with her, or know her family, but the common bond that does unite them is, sadly, breast cancer.

The same holds true for our event. The first year is the most powerful emotionally for those effected by a brain aneurysm, and the love and support from family, friends, and co-workers is what gets you through that delicate time. As lives moves on, so do friends, family and co-workers. It doesn’t mean they don’t care or remember the effected person, it’s just life. And attending events like this don’t hold the importance in THEIR lives as it does in yours. It can be discouraging, but we can only do so much.

We have been so blessed that the group of individuals associated with our walk and run continue to hold fast to our motto to “share our tears, remember with love, walk & run to honor” those effected by brain aneurysms. Our KAT-Walk and Karo 5K committee is comprised of family and friends who have lost loved ones and survivors. Half of them never met Kim, but they do know someone else who was effected, or are survivors themselves and want to contribute in educating the public. The desire to DO something can be a strong motivator.

Karolina Kurka’s family and friends needed a place to grieve and gather in a meaningful way that would also support brain aneurysm awareness. Karo was another beautiful, young, vibrant woman struck down by a ruptured brain aneurysm. Her family chose our walk to do that only a few short months after losing her, and as a result, the Karo-5K was born and many of Karolina’s family and friend are an integral part of the planning and fundraising.

This year, as I sat in the Brain Aneurysm Awareness tent, it was wonderful to see returning local and out-of-state survivors make the trip again. It doesn’t hurt that Maine is a beautiful state and the setting for the walk and run is visually appealing either.

But what struck me most was the number of new survivors I met and how they had heard about the event, made it a goal to do the walk or the run, and worked very hard to accomplish that goal. In some cases, simply making the trip to Portland, was an accomplishment.

The phrase “strength in numbers” came to mind as I met, hugged and shared stories with other survivors. Just as breast cancer survivors join together at Susan G. Komen events and take great pride in surviving something many hadn’t, brain aneurysm survivors know the immediate, and sometime’s deadly dangers a ruptured  brain aneurysm can bring. We SHOULD be proud we’re still here and we SHOULD let the public know about.

According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, a brain aneurysm ruptures every 18 minutes in the United States. With other illnesses and diseases, you are diagnosed and it doesn’t kill you instantly.  Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of the cases.One of the major goals for the KAT-Walk & Karo-5K event is to raise awareness about brain aneurysms. Locally, there is very little in the way of medical support groups. Those of us who have already been effected by brain aneurysms, are already acutely aware of some of the sudden symptoms, if you’re lucky enough to have any symptoms, but knowing what to expect during recovery and knowing you’re not alone, was something sorely lacking in the state. It’s days like Saturday that give me hope we’re making some positive progress in that regard.

A survivor who was still recovering from a recent rupture, was comforted in knowing her fatigue, short term memory, and physical awareness could, and probably WILL improve, simply be seeing and meeting other survivors and hearing that it’s okay to be frustrated. Been there, done that…bought the t-shirt!

I also met several survivors who are just damn lucky to be here because of misdiagnosis by the local medical communities. THAT is an issue high on our list of things we’d like to see improved. One woman lived with her rupture for six days before someone FINALLY scanned her. Not only does our medical community need to know the possible symptoms, but if we can educate the general public to those signs, we might save some lives if people get themselves to an ER sooner and insist on getting their head scanned. My own sister may have been saved if she had had a proper scan well before her ruptured aneurysm took her from her soon to be, sixteen-year old son.

The walk is always bittersweet for me. I am a survivor, I’m also living with another aneurysm. I walked for Kim the first year. I walked for my sister last year. This year, I was literally fueled by the positive energy I encountered meeting with other survivors before the walk began.

If you’re diagnosed with an unruptured brain aneurysm, just as it can be now with breast cancer, it does NOT mean a death sentence. There are procedures and treatments that can be performed and you’ll continue to live a long and healthy life afterwards….and making people aware of THAT is also very important.

Well, hell….it’s ALL important, and our messages are starting to get heard which is a very satisfying feeling. If we can save one life, comfort one survivor or family member who has lost someone, then the volunteer efforts put forth by our group of loving individuals who just wanted to honor our beautiful Kimmy, will not be in vain. And I know those angels who were recognized on our honor board and by teams bearing t-shirts with their names and photographs on them, are looking down and smiling.

To all my fellow survivors, KEEP LIVING!

PS: Next year, we’ll work on making sure a photograph of survivors is taken the day of the event.