“All I wanna know
Is how far you wanna go
Fighting for survival”
– Back Down South, Kings of Leon
Before the 5K Race for Hope: The Wall of Hope
No losers here. It was the brain tumor olympics and every participant, every volunteer and every donor was a gold medalist. The 15th annual Race For Hope , presented by Cassidy Turley, was held in Washington DC this past Sunday with over 11,000 participants and over $2.3M raised to help support the fight/war/resistance movement against brain tumors, the second leading cause of cancer death among children and young adults under 20, a disease in which only one out of three survive beyond five years and one for which there is no known prevention as there is no known cause. Sponsored by two very important organizations, ABC2, Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, and NBTS, the National Brain Tumor Society, this outpouring is one of the largest (but by no means the only) event of its kind in the US. (ABC2 alone also sponsors many other events including a race in Florida and a Marine Corps Marathon)
I must admit to having had a peculiar feeling all weekend- a mix of love, fear, hope and anxiety as I found myself awkwardly cast in a surreal performance. This was my new tribe. Unwilling members all, we were all there for one primary reason: to help fund and raise awareness for the need to find cures to this incurable disease. I walked among the thousands affected and afflicted. Parents wearing customized t-shirts celebrating their dearly beloved children, some of whom have left this earth way too soon and others, many participating in the 5K walk/run who continue to smile despite their disease. Friends, families, colleagues, all marching, walking, running, hoping towards the Capitol.
The notion of “losing” a battle to cancer (or any disease) frustrates. The word “lose” when combined with cancer implies that cancer won and left the defeated beaten to death. No. There is no losing…even when cancer has infiltrated and spread beyond repair, it is the spirit, I believe, which carries on…winning. But yes, when we succumb to the disease, we lose our place as a living being on this earth. Nonetheless this was an assembled army of brain tumor/brain cancer survivors and their families. Given that of all cancers, brain cancer represents 1-2% of the total, this was a uniquely qualified group.
I met other soldiers leading the charge, brain tumor survivors akin to leading generals on the battlefield, fighting for every living soul and in memory of those who are now gone. The remarkable BethAnn Telford of Team BT, who has consistently raised leading sums of money for the cause. The effervescent Heidi Gottlieb of Brain Matters. Liz Salmi of The Liz Army, my favorite multi-media BT comrade. The inspirational Anne Feeley of Brains on Bikes who came from England with her loving husband and daughters who live stateside. The kind Greg Cantwell of “Winning The Fight of Your Life,” the dynamic Stephen Conley who has consistently played a major role as has the Weinberg family. The radiant Stacey Case, whom with her late husband Dan, brother-in-law Steve and sister-in-law Jean started ABC2 through the Case Foundation when Dan was diagnosed with, and later succumbed to deadly brain cancer. My brave and loving parents were also there to support and share in the experience. My dear sister ran her first 5k for the cause. There were countless others I met who have laid their cards on the table for all to see in the hope that their naked truth will help others understand and support the cause.
Over 500 teams included those supporting brain cancer/tumor survivors and those who have already suffered the loss of a loved one and sought to honor their lives by participating. “Kisses for Kayla.” “Dr. Bears Brain Tumor Busters.” “Keep Calm and Cure Brain Cancer” were but a few.
The evolution and explosion of walks/rides/rows/fishing/golfing/swimming for a cure is well-known. The mothership of all cancer fundraising entities, Susan G. Komen, has truly done wonders for raising both critical funds and awareness for breast cancer, as well as creating a very sturdy template for related efforts to fight a multitude of diseases.
It is unfortunate that their good name has been tainted by the recent political disaster over the very misguided decision to not support Planned Parenthood as well as the seemingly unscrupulous “pink washing,” endorsing pink-hued items which themselves are of questionable origin, even sometimes from substances which cause cancer. The impact continues to be felt but over time I hope the Komen boat uprights itself.
Nonetheless, the good has certainly outweighed the bad as countless lives have been saved and over $2B raised since 1982, for breast cancer research, treatment and programs.
As someone who first because involved in fundraising for cancer through my participation in the century rides for the Prouty to benefit the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock, inspired by a friend who had lost his father to cancer, it shook me to my core to suddenly be walking in the “survivor” crowd for the opening ceremony of the Hope for Cure. I was humbled as I walked among the children in wheelchairs, the adults, many in a much worse state than I, mustered all they could to walk with the crowd. Some were blind from their surgeries, others walked with extreme difficulty.
A young couple in front of me (pictured in the slide show) walked with a tight embrace, the lanky boy walking forwards, his girlfriend backwards, her face buried into his chest, she wearing the yellow survivor shirt. They were bawling “I love you! I love you!” as they held each other tight. Tears streamed down my cheeks as the crowd went wild, cheering all of us. “Wait” I thought to myself, “you must have the wrong guy. I must be in the wrong place. What am I doing here? This is all wrong.”
But no. I was right where I needed to be and doing what I needed to be doing. And it was all right. It was all right.
“Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” ~Voltaire