By Pat Ciarrocchi
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This Sunday’s Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure will be history making.
Carrying the banner at the front of the Survivor’s Parade of Pink will be a married couple. Both are women and both are breast cancer survivors. For Kelly McCrea and Janet Kollmann, this will be their fifth survivors march together.
“I was up on the steps two weeks after my surgery and I looked over at her at one point and we both just fell apart,” said Kelly.
“What are you doing next to me?” asked Janet.
Kelly said she couldn’t stop shaking.
Emotions run an intense course through the passage to survival. For Kelly and Janet, passages are familiar territory. They met eighteen years ago.
When they say soul mates,” said Kelly, “I truly believe they’re talking about us. We are just meant to be.”
The two women have that easy couple’s love, when you can finish each other’s sentence.
Janet picked up the thought. “And we are totally comfortable with that. It’s not a forbidden love that some people think. We know it’s what’s supposed to be. God doesn’t make mistakes.”
If there are no mistakes, then sharing everything has become pivotal to their lives together.
They share 22-year-old son, Zach.
And in 2005, they learned they’d have to cope with Janet’s breast cancer.
Zach wanted to know why they were home early the day of the diagnosis.
“Why were we crying? And we told him. He said, ‘Are you going to live?’ Janet answered, “Of course. I am. I have to.”
Janet’s breast cancer had presented differently than most. She woke up one day with her breast red and swollen. Doctors found that a tumor had blocked a duct.
Janet chose a double mastectomy, initially thinking the second breast removal would be prophylactic. She opted for reconstruction and wanted to look even. After pathology tested the tissue from both breasts, Janet learned she had cancer in her second breast too. It was a surgical cure.
Janet and Kelly felt lucky and ready to move forward. Peace, though, was fleeting.
In March, 2009, breast cancer had chosen Kelly.
A routine gynecological exam raised a red flag with Kelly’s doctor. She had wanted to investigate a thickening under Kelly’s arm.
“It was me who was being so strong and joking,” said Kelly. “I told them don’t dare tell Janet. But when I walked out and saw her face, I said ‘Do you think it’s cancer?’”
It was stage two. It had spread beyond the breast. It took two lumpectomies to get it, plus chemotherapy, radiation and dealing with no hair.
“It’s one the scariest things in the world,” said Kelly. “To realize that you aren’t going to live forever makes you so vulnerable. It does change your life. There’s so much that’s not important any more, except our family, what we share. But the fear and every mammogram after that is terrible.”
“The roughest part is the way people look at you. I didn’t want to be sick.”
Janet said, “It was a thousand times worse for me, having her sick and having her go through this.”
Kelly echoed, “A thousand times worse for me, her being sick. I couldn’t take away her pain.”
But Janet could give Kelly a ring, last year with a proposal on a North Carolina beach with the family nearby. With a grin, Janet calls Kelly, “A traditionalist.”
Then, last September, marriage vows in Maine, where same sex marriage is legal. A little smashed wedding cake in the face made them laugh even harder.
“We love it,’ said Janet.
“I’m a married woman,” said Kelly. “My mom never thought she’d hear me say that.”
On Sunday, Janet and Kelly will be in pink shirts and sneakers, in stride, side by side, the way they live their lives.
They’ll carry the banner that leads the survivors down the steps of the Art Museum.
For them, another passage, among some of life’s most priceless.