A brush with death inspires a 1,400-mile hike
By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
Cathy "CJ" Reid couldn't keep her feelings to herself any longer. Six weeks ago, while munching on a mandarin chicken salad at Wendy's, she finally blurted it out.
"I hate my life," Reid, 46, told her sister, Tracie Reid, as tears rolled down her freckled face. "I know, I should appreciate everything I have. I've had it much tougher in the past than I have now."
She had fought a life-threatening illness and was healthier than ever. She had a loving family and her job as a supervisor for Pinellas County Emergency Communications/911 was just fine.
But most of her life had been mechanical, doing what she had to do, what she needed to do, Reid said.
Her sister told her it might help if she picked something she really enjoyed and just did it.
That's when Cathy Reid got an idea.
"I think I'll walk to New Jersey," Reid told her sister.
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Reid has had plenty of time to ponder her life since 1995, when she was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a disease that can cause cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
At the time, she was given five years to live.
Eight years later, with her liver functioning normally, she wants to start a new life. She's getting rid of most of her worldly possessions and on July 1, she's going on a 1,400-mile hike to Pomona, N.J., to live with her son, Robby Boyle, 24.
Before she was diagnosed, Reid had no idea she was sick. She was tired, but she had been working night shift and thought exhaustion came with the territory. A couple of weeks after she donated blood, she got a letter in the mail informing her that she might have hepatitis C.
She thought it was a mistake. But she tested positive for the disease and a scan revealed that she had an enlarged liver.
"They only gave me five years and said that if I wasn't dead, I was going to be really sick," she said. "Just hearing that, it changed my views on life."
Since then, she has gone through three phases of interferon treatment, each more horrendous than the last. Reid had to give herself shots in her thigh three times a week.
"There's something unnatural about sticking yourself," Reid said.
Her thighs were bruised and bumpy. Most of the time she was nauseated and felt like she had the flu.
She took supplements and vitamins and she filled her house with plants and animals: a monkey, parrot, parakeet, a couple of dogs and a cat.
In 2001, a liver function test came back normal. It's been normal since. She awaiting the results from a test three weeks ago, but she plans to go on her hike no matter what.
* * *
Friends and family say they don't doubt she'll finish it.
"Once she's made up her mind, you can pretty much guarantee it," said her daughter Sunshine Boyle, who is driving her mom's belongings up north in her truck.
Her son offered to fly her up north. He even offered to come pick her up and drive her there. But Reid said she would rather walk.
"It's not in the destination, it's in the journey," she said. "It's the walking. It's the solitude. It's the being in nature. It's just seeing stuff -- trees, animals, people -- I love all of that stuff."
She plans to walk 20 to 24 miles a day, heading north to Atlanta and working her way toward the East Coast. She's cramming her backpack with a tent, toiletries, clothes, a sleeping bag and mat, and rations for a few days at a time. Her coffee-colored 1-year-old boxer, Macy, will join her, at least until he's tuckered out. If so, she plans to fly him the rest of the way.
She started packing up her things two weeks ago. Her living room is strewn with about 25 boxes. She plans to keep only eight.
Reid's been walking about 3 miles a day, and a couple of times a week she goes on 15-mile treks through the city. She also gives her 5-year-old granddaughter, Mellissa Boyle, piggyback rides for a half-mile at a time, to condition herself to carry the 50-pound backpack.
She's bringing a pocket-sized e-mail device, too.
Her daughter is creating a Web site, where Reid will log her journey.
Reid plans to indulge herself when she gets there.
She plans to reupholster a thrift store rocking chair, fashion some lamps and candleholders out of copper wire and sew her granddaughter a velvet cape.
She estimates that her trip might cost about $3,000 and she hopes to get sponsors.
She plans to donate additional proceeds to the Hepatitis Foundation Inc. and the American Liver Foundation.
To learn more
For information about Reid's journey, e-mail Sunshine Boyle at sunshinethecandlelady
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