Hello tweeps, 3Day sisters and brothers and pink family:
My name is Michael L. Wingo, but in the breast cancer community I am known as Mike Pink Shoes. I have been involved in the cause of breast and other cancer awareness since April 2002 when I crewed my first 3Day, then the Avon Breast Cancer 3Day.
In 2012, I will crew my 12th (Chicago), 13th (Atlanta) and 14th (Dallas) 3Days. I consider Dallas my ‘home’ event because I am in Oklahoma, but I have also crewed Seattle and D.C. twice. I am always a member of the Gear and Tent Crew although in Seattle I was with Camp Logistics. But I also have experience with the Lunch Crew because on 3Day Saturday I usually volunteer with that group.
My story has been published in a couple of places and I have just transferred it here. It is quite long, but it is how I ended up where I am.
If you are interested, I invite you to read it.
My name is Michael L. Wingo, but I am known as Mike Pink Shoes in the breast cancer community.
I have been involved with the cause of breast cancer issues since April 2002.
But my story is a little different. I didn’t get involved because of a diagnosis of a friend or family member. In fact, when I first became involved, I didn’t know anyone with breast cancer. I basically knew how to spell breast cancer, but that was the extent of my knowledge about the subject.
It was not breast cancer at all that first led me to this cause, but an event. An event called the breast cancer 3Day. And it saved my life.
Let me explain.
In November of 2001, my wife of 15 years, the only woman I’ve ever loved, my high school sweetheart and the mother of our three beautiful children, came to me and told me that she didn’t want to be married anymore. Of course, when she remarried a year later to a man she had known for less than three months, I realized what she had really meant is that she didn’t want to be married TO ME anymore.
I can laugh at it now, but at the time, I was devastated. Coming from a broken family in which I never knew my father as living in my home, marriage was always very important to me. It had been a lifelong goal to be a great husband and successful parent. And in an instant I saw that crumbling around me.
As someone who has battled depression all of his life, I quickly let that aspect of my personality take over. I fell into an awful pit of depression that at the time I saw no chance of climbing out of. And you know what, I didn’t care. I didn’t care because, frankly, I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care about my life, my friends, my faith, myself.
And it got worse. Not only did I not care, hate began to fester inside of me and grow. I hated everything and everyone. I hated you without even knowing you. I hated God. And perhaps most devastatingly, I hated myself.
I began living in such a manner that was very ugly. I wasn’t out robbing banks or intentionally hurting anyone, but if someone got hurt by my words or actions, so be it. I didn’t care.
As I now look back on it, I equate that hatred to cancer. And it was growing very rapidly inside me, consuming me, my thoughts and actions. Left unchecked, I’m sure that it would have been the death of me.
However, in His infinite mercy, God had other plans for me. It would just take a while for them to play out.
As it was against my personality, this life filled with hatred was not for me. I began to realize this (months later) and started to attempt to get out from under the black cloud that had been following me.
At about this time, a friend who had lost her mother to breast cancer told me about this event called the Avon Breast Cancer 3Day. It was some kind of long walk that raised awareness and money for the fight against the disease. She invited me to tag along and volunteer for the upcoming event to be conducted in Dallas, Texas.
I really didn’t know what was involved, but at the time, I thought ‘why not, I don’t have anything going on in my life and I can always go back to hating next weekend.’
So I accepted her invitation to be a part of the event. Little did I know that I was ready to embark on an amazing journey of self-discovery that would change me and set me on a new path for the rest of my life.
But it was still small steps I was taking.
I didn’t want to be in the middle all of the hubbub of the event and wished to kind of hang in the background so I signed up as a crew member for the 3Day event. The crew is an all-volunteer team that does not walk the event, but instead takes care of the walkers through a variety of duties and tasks.
Because I was fairly healthy physically (certainly not spiritually or emotionally) and because I enjoy physical activities, I signed up for what was described as the most physically challenging of the crew – the Gear and Tent Crew.
As the event grew closer, I began to have second thoughts. Did I really want to do this? I was already imagining being surrounded by a bunch of bitter old women who had the piss-poor attitude that I was also carrying around – mad at the world and not afraid to tell anyone and everyone just how unfair this world is.
But even in my then-state, I did not like to make a commitment and back out. I liked to follow through on my word and so I sucked it up and made that trip south from my Oklahoma home.
And upon my arrival, I was hit with the enormity of the journey I had just embarked on. I was in way over my head. Hundreds of women and men (I would later learn really thousands) all gathered together to fight for a single mission.
But what struck me more than anything was the absence of the bitter old women. Where were those women at? There were women (and men) of all ages and they didn’t have scowls on their faces, they had smiles – beautiful smiles. They were tears, but there were just as many if not more bursts of laughter – and lots and lots and lots of hugs.
I didn’t get it.
That woman is younger than I am, she’s bald and she obviously has cancer. Why is she smiling and hugging everyone in sight? I was most assuredly taken aback.
Because I was not surrounded by the bitterness that I expected, I was surrounded by what I know now to be love – pure, unadulterated love. Not for a friend or a family member that we are ‘supposed’ to love, but the love of a complete stranger. Love for a group of people that you just met.
These ‘bitter old women’ I had expected to meet, weren’t bitter at all and most were not old women by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of them had been given a most terrifying medical diagnosis and to my way of thinking had every right to be angry at the world. Sadly, some of them I met that first year are no longer with us. Yet, there they were smiling, laughing, and yes, crying. But they were doing it all with a real zest for life that was palpable. I could see it with my own eyes and I could feel it with my soul.
And an incredible wave of shame spread over me. Here I was, relatively healthy physically with three beautiful and healthy children whom I loved dearly and a very supportive family that was there for me (although I had turned my back on them).
For the first time in months, I saw who I had become. And it was not pretty and it scared the living hell out of me.
Yes, my marriage had ended. And I don’t want to diminish that sad chapter of my life. But realistically, other than some emotional scars, no one was hurt. And certainly no one had died.
Finally, everything came into perspective for me. I really had so much to live for. And not just trudging through daily life, but things to get excited about and be hopeful for. I like to think what happened was that I had a spiritual epiphany. Or that I was just pulling my head out of my own ass. Both explanations are valid.
And I knew I had to change.
So, in a tent in a field somewhere between Dallas and Ft. Worth, I hit my knees and I apologized to God. I told Him that I wanted (needed) to change and that with His help I was going to do it. No longer would I be a taker, but I wanted to be a giver. I no longer wanted to be a discourager, but an encourager. I wanted to become a cheerleader for the greatest game of all – the game of life.
And because of this event – this breast cancer 3Day event – had brought me to this decision, I also expressed another desire. I wanted to do what I could for this cause. I didn’t know what I could do, but I figured I could do something.
But it was not an overnight transformation.
I returned home after that first 3Day and continued on with my life, trying to make those baby steps to improve as a person and a man. I think it was a period of transition for me during which time God was healing the cancer of hate in my heart.
And it wasn’t easy. I suffered a house fire that took the life of my 13-year old miniature daschund – who had been my constant companion since the divorce.
And the 3Day went through some organizational changes and would not return to Dallas until 2005.
But in 2005, I immediately signed on as a Gear and Tent Crew member and I was better prepared to assist this time. Only thing is, the 2005 Dallas 3Day, now organized by Susan G. Komen, was conducted in June. And if you’ve ever been in Texas in June, it can be a little hot. No, it can be a lot hot. And in 2005, it was stifling. There were walkers and crew falling out left and right and I even ended up in the medical tent packed in ice for a short time. I was threatened with being Red Carded (taken out of the event), but I pleaded with the medical staff to allow me to continue to work. Fortunately, it relented. And with the promise that I would take care of myself and not put up any more tents that day, the medical staff released me.
I immediately went about putting up more tents.
It was important to me because I had latched onto a special project. Her name was Jackie Lopez and I had carried her luggage and put up her tent on the first day and had promised her that I would be there for her the remainder of the weekend.
And I was.
When she finished each day, I was at the finish line waiting for her. I walked her to her tent and did everything I could think of to make her more comfortable.
On the final day, I took down her tent and carried her luggage for what I thought would be the last time. Little did I know that my life was fixing to be turned upside down.
After the closing ceremonies, I was just standing around watching all of the walkers and crew depart when I saw Jackie standing alone with her bags at her side, obviously waiting for her ride. I quickly made my way to her and hugged her and told her that I had been carrying her luggage all weekend and that I would be honored if she would let me do it one more time.
So I carried her luggage to the waiting car and placed them in the trunk. I turned expecting to receive one last hug and it was in that very moment that Jackie did something that I will never forget and that I still get emotional just recalling that. Jackie didn’t hug me. She grabbed my face and pulled me close to where we were eye to eye. And she said, ‘thank you, you have earned your place in Heaven.’
And she meant it.
She got in her car and it rolled away as I just stood in the street dumbfounded. What just happened I wondered?
What had happened was a great life lesson had occurred. I had questioned myself as if what I was doing was making any impact or any difference at all. Jackie had given me the answer.
What I learned in her simple statement was that we all can’t do great wondrous things. I am not a doctor nor a researcher so I will never cure cancer. But I can do some things, perhaps small things, but they can make a difference.
And a fire began to burn in my soul that I COULD do something. From that day forward, I have actively sought out those opportunities where I can do something and I’ve prayed for the strength and courage to take advantage of those opportunities.
At the 2006 3Day, I debuted two things that would further my commitment to this cause. I wore my first pair of pink hi-top Chuck Taylor shoes and I dressed as 3Day Saturday Santa for the first time. Walkers didn’t know my name, but they would see my shoes and shout ‘hey, Pink Shoes.’ And thus, Mike Pink Shoes was born. Now, from coast to coast (Seattle to Washington D.C) I am known as Mike Pink Shoes, a silly moniker that I wear proudly.
The Santa suit on 3Day Saturday was a huge hit with it being able to lift the walkers’ spirits on what is the most grueling of all 3Day walking days – the middle day. It has even evolved into Pink Santa with me wearing a custom made pink Santa suit for the enjoyment of the walkers and crew.
In 2006, I fundraised for the first time, raising just a little over $400 for the 3Day. I have not raised less than $1000 each year since, including when I was one of the event’s top crew fundraisers with over $4000 total.
I also began to donate to others as well. In 2008, I donated to a total of 42 walkers and crew and I matched that number of donations in 2011. In 2012, I committed to making 100 donations and i hit my goal recently with my 101st donation to the 2012 3Day series.
While the 3Day, the Race for the Cure and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life have taken on big parts of my life, they are really not what motivate me.
What really motivates me and what has enhanced my life so greatly, is the relationships that these events have led me to. I have gained lifelong friends who are part of me as part of my 3Day family. I feel they would do anything for me and I hope they know that I would do anything for them. They have become my sisters and brothers. I love them.
And I have been introduced to an amazing group of people who I will never quit on – and they are my survivors. I call them my ‘Survivor Warriors’ and for them, I am on call 24/7. They know, at least I hope they do, that they have an open line to me at any time, on any day, from anywhere.
Through social networking (www.facebook.com/mikepinkshoes and www.twitter.com/mikepinkshoes) I have gathered around me a wonderful and compassionate network of Survivor Warriors whom I love dearly. Some I also know in real life and some are just internet friends, but they all have a place in my heart and they would all be a welcome and respected guest in my home and at my table.
My involvement with this cause has blessed my life so much, most importantly with those aforementioned relationships. But it has also allowed me to do things and go places that I would have never dreamed. For example, in 2008, I roamed the halls of Congress lobbying for the passage of breast cancer legislation. I still claim that I am the only man in history who have met with Congressmen and their staffs in their D.C. offices while wearing pink shoes.
As I previously stated, I began this journey without the beast of breast cancer striking within my own family. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. In August of 2005, my Aunt Sue was diagnosed. She underwent a lumpectomy and treatment and is now doing well.
However, my own mother was not as lucky. On Dec. 28, 2010, Roxie Darlene Wingo was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lobular Carcinoma. On February 14, 2011 (Valentine’s Day) she had a double mastectomy performed. She was doing well through treatment although it was hard on her. But on June 18, 2011, three days before her 72nd birthday, mom couldn’t catch her breath. And with me rubbing her feet, her body gave out and she passed on to Heaven.
We had just a short 169 days from diagnosis to her passing. But it was 169 days that I am so very thankful for. It seems kind of strange to verbalize, but despite the hardships, it was a brilliant 169 days.
Although I have no trouble admitting that I am still struggling with her passing and I miss her terribly.
But if breast cancer thought I was going to retreat with this battle defeat, oh, how it is sadly mistaken. The war still rages and I am going to continue to be a Warrior in the fight. I promise that to myself, to my Survivor Warriors all over the country, to my Aunt and to my mom, and to anyone reading this – as long as there is fight in me, I am in this fight.
Because I am Mike Pink Shoes.
“I may not be on the frontline in the battle against this insidious disease. But I want to be as near the front as possible, so that when breast cancer is a dying beast, gasping for its last breath, I want its blood on my hands,” – Mike Pink Shoes, 2006.
“Breast cancer, when they lay you down (cure), what I do on your grave won’t pass for flowers,” – Mike Pink Shoes, 2010, adapted from the movie The Shootist.
Epilogue: I still have self-doubt and I sometimes wonder if I am where I am supposed to be and if I am doing the things I am supposed to be doing. And in seeking the answer to those questions, I was led to look at my birthday. For I was born on October 1st, the first day of breast cancer awareness month.