Cheers and tears at Run to Fight Children’s Cancer
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
They came on foot – lean, tanned marathon runners competing in the 10K, working gals chatting every step of the 5K, and a 70-year-old cancer survivor using two canes to stroll the survivors’ walk, then dancing, as best he could, between two long lines of rooting supporters.
They came with wheels – a young dad with a white rooster hat whose 1-year-old was having none of wearing that silly headgear, other parents seemingly outnumbered by wiggling, healthy babies in strollers, and grandparents steering their precious cargo through a sea of purple, red and yellow.
One team came with a walker, which a little girl used to take more steps that she has in years, leaving her mom and onlookers with tears streaming down their cheeks.
An announced registered crowd of more than 3,000 runners, walkers and riders came to Grand Canyon University on a perfect spring morning on Saturday to participate in the GCU Foundation Run to Fight Children’s Cancer. All told, nearly 5,000 people, including about 300 volunteers, came out to help raise awareness of childhood cancer, the leading cause of death by disease among children ages 14 and younger, and to raise money to support cancer patients and their families and for research. The run has raised nearly $200,000 for Children’s Cancer Network and Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and it is anticipated that Saturday’s event may push the needle past $300,000.
It was a morning overflowing with cheers and tears.
Mia Foutz of Scottsdale came to the run with her mom, Sandra, younger siblings Charlie and Vivi, and nine other people on Team Mia. Diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor when she was just 5, Mia has endured surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation and has been mercilessly pumped with steroids. Two years ago, she attended her first GCU run in a wheelchair, and last year, she was able to take a few steps on the survivors’ walk.
On Saturday, she made it the entire way using a walker, her mom crying behind her.
“I was coaxing her, and she blew me away,” Sandra Foutz said. “I told her, `Wow, what are you going to do next? Are you going to fly?’ And she said, ‘Only if I have pixie dust.’”
The 8-year-old wants to dance again, and when she does, three strangers who also participated in Saturday’s run saw to it that she’ll have the right thing to wear.
Mandy Etem, the assistant coach of GCU’s bowling team, came to the run dressed in a multicolored, glittery tutu and wild knee socks, as did her mom, Debi Etem, of Valley Center, Calif., and friend Jolene LaBeau of Escondido, Calif. They were thinking about Morgan Henning, a young friend in Wichita, Kan., who is battling cancer.
They brought along an extra tutu and gave it to Mia, who attached it to her walker before crossing the finish line of the survivors’ walk.
The outlook of 70-year-old Alan Zaben as a cancer survivor is as sunny as the clothing he wore Saturday – a yellow “I Am a Cancer Survivor” T-shirt and a little yellow GCU superhero survivor’s cape. (Yellow is the inspirational color of the childhood cancer cause.) First diagnosed with cancer in 1988, Zaben more recently survived bone-marrow cancer. He said he will need five more chemotherapy treatments each month for the rest of his life.“Cancer may have robbed me of that blissful ignorance that once led me to believe that tomorrow stretched forever,” said Zaben, the American Cancer Society’s Arizona 2014 Hero of Hope. “In exchange, I’ve been granted the wisdom to see each today as something special, a gift to be used wisely and fully. Nothing can take that away.”
And he added, “I’m still cookin.’”
The “Jack Strikes Back” team, a play on the “Star Wars” movies, was out in full force with 6-year-old race starter Jack Welch, of Chandler, ready to blow the air horn for both the 5K and 10K runs. Jack was having fun with former race starters, among them freckle-nosed Grace Kostyk (2012), who is just two weeks away from ending her 2 1/2 years of cancer treatment.
“Cancer is something that is, `No, not my kid,’” said Grace’s mom, Sue Kostyk. “One of the things we love the most about this race is that some of the money raised goes to research. Treatment of childhood cancer is 30 years old and so barbaric.”
Julie Crane’s cancer journey with her child is long in the past now, and 29-year-old daughter Amelia is doing well. But being at the run together (as Millie’s Mile Warriors) and seeing families still battling the disease brought Julie’s emotions to the surface. “Amelia had a huge support group,” the Mesa woman said, with tears in her eyes. “That’s the most important thing.”
Supporting cancer patients and their families is one of the things Patti Luttrell does best. An adjunct faculty member in GCU’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, Patti, along with her husband, Steve, founded Children’s Cancer Network, which provides financial, educational, psychosocial and other types of assistance to families.
The Luttrells’ son, Jeff, is a 20-year cancer survivor, and the Luttrells are more hopeful than ever for a cure, thanks to the work being done at a new molecular medicine institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“Someday, it will be a reality,” she said. “I hope to see it in my lifetime, for sure.”
Security guard Jacob Lisiecki was three minutes away from finishing up a 12-hour overnight shift at GCU’s main gate as drivers began streaming in Saturday morning. But cars of volunteers who were handling the event’s set-up started arriving at 3:45 a.m., Lisiecki said.
“I don’t think I’ve seen this many people come in here, not even during basketball games,” he said. “Everything from little kids to the elderly.”
All that exercise makes a person hungry and thirsty. GCU had available 20 big bags of trail mix, eight huge containers of peanut butter, 180 bagels, six giant hunks of cream cheese, 500 pounds of bananas and 2,800 bottles of water.
Next to the food line was a survivors’ activities center with a photo booth, arts and crafts, and performances by magician Ryan Fox, who lost his sight from cancer as a child but managed to overcome it and bring joy to others.
Also outside the survivors’ area was volunteer Maria Cazares, who was thinking about her nephew Julio Gomez, who is battling brain cancer. She called the mood of the crowd “optimistic – there’s a lot of family power here.”
Sandy Hendrixson’s long, gray ponytail bounced behind her as she and daughter Tiffany Brown, both of Phoenix, crossed the 5K finish line. Cancer has touched many of their family members and friends at church.
“It’s a great cause, and I like knowing where my money is going – to kick cancer to the curb,” Hendrixson said.
First-place finishers in the 10K (6.2-mile) run were Sonya Lucatero, 25, with a time of 41 minutes 3 seconds to lead the women, and Adam Folts, 27, at 33:27 for the men, according to official timer Raceplace Events. The women’s 5K winner was Shayna Weir, 27, with a time of 19:25, and the men’s 5K winner was Patrick Sweeney, 35, in 16:50.
Sweeney, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., said he ran (in thin sandals, by the way) with friend Kimberly Miller, a survivor of breast cancer and melanoma who lives in Scottsdale, in mind. Said Miller: “I love that, as a survivor, they gave me a cup of coffee and a hug when I got here. That made me feel special.”
Raceplace reported that the youngest registered 5K competitor, 8-year-old Ri Hildebrand, and the eldest, Bob Stamp, 85, crossed the finish line just more than a minute apart. Hildebrand’s time was 26:56, while Stamp finished in 25:45.
Marisol Herrera’s little boy, Troy, lost his battle to cancer just four months ago. The 29-year-old Herrera participated in the 5K in his name. “He never complained, not once, that he didn’t feel well or anything,” she said. “Every single day, I think of my lil’ hero, and I miss him with all my heart and soul.”
Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8018 or firstname.lastname@example.org.