Opinion Columns & Blogs

Leonard Pitts: Why I signed up to walk 60 miles

I'm walkin', yes indeed.

—Fats Domino

On Thursday it will be 22 years since she died. I remember getting home from photocopying some paper I needed to complete my taxes, only to find my wife facing me with eyes so stricken and bereft that I didn't need to hear the words. I knew.

We rushed out to my sister's house, went into the room, and there it was: the shriveled husk that until that day had contained my mom. I left the room at a trot, hand to mouth, the world blurred by tears.

My sisters, my brother and I spent the next hours crying, talking, reminiscing. Then, because it was still April 15 and the federal government has little sense of humor about such things, I went and mailed my taxes. It felt surreal, doing this mundane civic chore on the day breast cancer took my mother. I remember being vaguely surprised that taxes were still due, that the world had not stopped, that here was life, going on regardless.

Now here we are, 22 years later, and your humble correspondent has just signed up to walk 60 miles over the course of three days this October as part of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. The Komen organization, founded in 1982, describes itself as "the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists" and also the planet's largest nonprofit donor to the fight against breast cancer, having raised $1.5 billion for that cause. The group says it's had a hand in every major advance in breast cancer treatment since the early 1980s.

All that notwithstanding, your humble correspondent had to sneak up on himself to make himself participate, had to commit before he could talk himself out of it. I am not an athletic fellow. And 60 miles is, well... 60 miles.

But after years of making excuses, I decided I could no longer spurn the opportunity to help raise money against this killer. So here I am, hitting up co-workers, siblings, friends and, yes, readers. (If you donate, please don't send your money to me. Go to the Web site www.the3day.org, click "Donate to a participant," and input my name.)

The Komen people advise participants to write a letter to explain to potential donors why they are walking. I guess this is mine.

I am walking because I have a wife, two daughters, two sisters and dozens of women friends. And while breast cancer is not unknown among men (Peter Criss of KISS and Richard Roundtree of "Shaft" fame are survivors), it absolutely ravages women, for whom it is the second most common cancer behind skin cancer. This year 200,000 women will be diagnosed; 40,000 will die.

So I am walking because I hate breast cancer.

I am walking because when kismet hits you hard, it is life-affirming to hit back.

And I am walking because April 15, 1988, has never gone away.

She was a neat lady, my mother. Agnes Pitts grew up in Depression-era Mississippi and probably had no more than seven years of formal education. But, boy, was she smart — read everything she could get her hands on, taught us that education was the holy grail, carried herself with a regality, a native dignity, that circumstance could not besmirch.

She loved Jesus Christ, Nat Cole, fine clothing, seafood and her bookish, bespectacled firstborn son who was forever getting his glasses broken or his money stolen by bigger, tougher boys. She loved him anyway — you never saw a woman more proud of any child — patiently nursing his skinned knees and bruised pride, stubbornly defending his childish dreams from a world filled with wolves.

She left here 22 years ago. Never saw her grandkids grow up, never met her great-grands, never saw that bookish boy fulfill those dreams. So if you ask me why I'm walking, well, I guess the answer is simple.

I miss my mom.