Runners, Walkers Go for the Gold in GCU’s San Diego Event
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Paul F. Gero
SAN DIEGO — Maya Thompson was dealt an unexpected and very much unwanted hand in 2010, when doctors found two cancerous tumors in her young son Ronan. Despite surgery and aggressive chemotherapy treatments of his Stage 4 neuroblastoma, the Phoenix boy died on May 9, 2011, just three days shy of his fourth birthday.
His devastated mother’s mission is this: to ensure that the gold ribbon — the symbol for childhood cancer, which kills more children in the United States than any other disease — is as well-known in the world as is its pink counterpart, for breast cancer.
“The gold ribbon represents our kids, our families,” Thompson said. “I don’t understand why athletes don’t wear gold ribbons.”
Gold ribbons were omnipresent — threaded through tennis shoes, tying back ponytails and doubling as bracelets — on Saturday morning during Grand Canyon University’s inaugural San Diego edition of the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.
The energy-charged 5K event, followed by a spirited one-mile family run and an emotional survivors’ walk, in which gold capes draped the shoulders of people of all ages who have beaten cancer, drew nearly 800 participants in GCU-purple T-shirts. An additional 200 volunteers in red shirts joined them at NTC Park at Liberty Station.
Proceeds from the run will benefit the Ronan Thompson Foundation, a Phoenix nonprofit dedicated to curing childhood cancer, and Max’s Ring of Fire, a San Diego-based pediatric cancer charity that raises money and awareness of innovative neuroblastoma research and clinical trials. Max’s Ring of Fire is named for Max Mikulak, who died of cancer in 2008 at age12.
The Mikulaks — Melissa and Andy and their surviving children, Hannah, 13, and Nicky, 8 — have organized their own childhood-cancer runs since 2010. But they hadn’t been part of such a large effort as Saturday’s.
“We’re so grateful to GCU,” Melissa said. “When you lose a child to cancer, a hole gets ripped in your heart, and the edges are really jagged at the beginning. It gets softer, but the hole is always there.”
Families whose children are still fighting cancer or who have a conditional clean bill of health showed up to support the cause and one another.
Among them was race starter Jaydon Bartletti, who underwent surgery and chemotherapy for two years — nearly half his life. Now 4, Jaydon’s bouncy, dark-blond locks are back, and he was the picture of health as he counted down all three events, giving a gleeful blast of the air horn after each start.
“This is just so inspirational, and it gives us new hope and new energy to see everyone out here,” said Jaydon’s mom, Stacey.
The Bartlettis — Stacey and Jay, Jaydon and his little brother, Rowan, and the boys’ grandparents, Barbara and Don, each wore a green T-shirt with a gold “J” on the front and “Kicking cancer to the curb since 2011″ on the back. Jaydon also sported tiny, green high-top sneakers and medals around his neck from GCU and Max’s Ring of Fire.
“I’m rich,” he whispered to his mother, who couldn’t have agreed more.
Parker Shaw, 7, battled his Stage 4 neuroblastoma from a San Diego hospital bed while his mom, Crystal, and sisters, Kennedy, 5, and Karsyn, 2, and a large team of friends ran the race for Team Parker. Crystal and her husband, Dave, of Lakeside, Calif., have quit their jobs to accompany their boy to treatments at a New York City hospital.
One young boy on Parker’s team clutched a sign reading, “God gives His toughest battles to His strongest soldiers.”
Crystal Shaw said she never imagined pediatric cancer would darken her door.
“You know that childhood cancer is out there, but it’s so hurtful to think about that you tend check out until it hits home,” she said. “My whole focus now is to help find a better cure, and I’m going to do anything I can until something changes.”
Vivi Cabral was diagnosed with neuroblastoma last January, when a CT scan for stubborn pneumonia revealed she had cancer. Her parents, Ruben and Brenda, described life with cancer as a “horrible roller-coaster ride.”
But the 4-year-old, bouncing around in a yellow ruffled skirt and long brown pigtails, was well enough to come to Saturday’s event, along with 22 members of her family and friends who together raised $1,100 for the charities.
“We’re going to bring out even more people next year,” Ruben Cabral promised.
By then, Maya Thompson’s 6-month-old daughter, Poppy, may be old enough to walk with her family in its quest to find a cure for the cancer that killed her brother. Her mother’s message to parents of the victims and patients will live on.
“You have to learn to become your child’s biggest advocate,” she said. “You are thrown into this so quickly that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but you have to find your voice for your child. Because they don’t have one of their own in this.”
Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.