18:00 PM

Celebrating life in color

Mae Stubbs
This year is a landmark for me. On the very same day I learned I had breast cancer in 1997, I’ll be participating in the Pink Me Up! color celebration to prove that I’m still going strong.
Mae Stubbs

By Shannon Freix

On October 1, 1997, the phone rings at the home of Mae Stubbs. She answers and the radiologist in the white lab coat she met a couple days prior is on the other end.

“I’m sorry to tell you that the biopsy came back positive for breast cancer,” explains the voice on the other end.

The rest of the conversation was a blur. Mae remembers hanging up and then being flooded by a cycle of feelings she could not control: anger, fear, disbelief, anxiety and confusion. The merry-go-round of emotions went on for weeks as she struggled to absorb her new reality.

No one is prepared to learn they have cancer. Or that a loved one has cancer. Mae explained how her wide angle lens of life instantly narrowed to a pinhole. All her effort was now focused on beating cancer and getting healthy.

Today, with a broad smile on her face, Mae tells her story about surviving cancer. Twenty years later – to the day – on October 1, 2017, she will be celebrating her victory over cancer at the Pink Me Up! color celebration.

“Although I’ve been a part of this event for several years, this year is a landmark for me,” Mae says. “On the very same day I learned I had breast cancer in 1997, I’ll be participating in the Pink Me Up! color celebration to prove that I’m still going strong.” This will be the fifth time Mae has taken part in Pink Me Up!

Pink Me Up! is an annual community event hosted by Kalispell Regional Healthcare to celebrate cancer survivors and bring awareness to all cancers. Participants can choose a 1k or 5k distance, and it’s about fun, support, wellness and inspiration. Teams and individuals are showered in bright colors at various paint stations along the course. The paint is actually dyed cornstarch, so it is safe and nontoxic. After a full day of festivities, there are thousands of walking colorful canvases at the finish line and it’s surely a sight to see! All registrants receive an event T-shirt to wear on the course, or some get crafty and bring an already decorated costume from home.

“There are participants of every kind at Pink Me Up! You can walk, skip, run or roll through the course,” explains Melissa Hulvat, MD, surgeon at the Bass Breast Center. “This event is for everyone. If you like to have a good time and can tolerate a lot of silliness, then we want to see you there.”

This year’s event offers some new additions, including more slip-n-slide obstacles — a big attraction last year — giant animal pool floaties and black event T-shirts for each registrant to really make this color celebration pop. The planning committee has also created an accessible course so that participants in wheelchairs or those with other needs can participate.

No matter the course, all participants should expect to get “pinked” or “purpled” along the route including the spectacular rainbow color blast as the event finale. Registrants are also eligible to win prizes for best costume, most creative team name and largest team. In 2016, Mae’s team took home the trophy for largest team with more than 50 members, aptly named Breast Intentions.

Mae adds confidently, “This year, we are going to set a new team record. I plan to get 75 people on our team and anyone is invited to join the Breast Intentions team when they register.”

The theme of this year’s event is Cancer Stinks. To highlight that message, event coordinators will be selling colorful Pink Me Up! socks at the event with the same motto on them. Each volunteer will receive a complimentary pair of Cancer Stinks socks. Additionally, all event proceeds will benefit the Cancer Support Community (CSC) Kalispell.

“It’s a perfect slogan because cancer does stink,” shares Jennifer Young, outreach coordinator for CSC Kalispell. Jennifer was a part of her sister’s cancer journey and speaks from experience. “Spouses, kids, siblings, parents, friends and co-workers are affected, too. You’re not sure what to do to help, what to say. That’s why I’m motivated to help people in this circumstance.”

At CSC Kalispell, everyone impacted by cancer has a place to connect with others in a cozy, home-style setting. To talk. To feel better. To connect with others going through similar situations. CSC efforts are no-cost to the community and include wellness classes, outdoor adventures, wig-fitting and image workshops, and support sessions.

“No one — not even your doctor or nurse — can tell you what it’s really going to be like,” says Mae.

Meeting other survivors or patients going through treatment really helped her understand what the process would be like. Mae’s son, Josh, thought cancer had only a fatal outcome until they talked about it together.

“I really had to get out of my own head and realize that he was also battling cancer with me,” she shares.

Mae is ever grateful that she went through cancer treatment with her middle school son by her side and with friends and family members as her support team. Attending Pink Me Up! is a way she can give back to others who are going through this tough journey, too.

Twenty years after the phone call on October 1, Mae is still cancer-free. She continues to inspire others and to fight cancer with fitness.

Join Mae in supporting our neighbors with cancer and register for Pink Me Up! Go to krh.org/cancerstinks to sign up. Early bird registration and discounts are valid until August 21, so don’t miss the opportunity to save a little cash. After this date, you can still register at regular cost through September 28. If you’d like to volunteer at Pink Me Up!, contact Muffie Thomson, public affairs coordinator, at (406) 758-1468 or email her at mthomson@krmc.org.

First published in 406 Woman magazine, August/September 2017