Why they keep running to fight children’s cancer
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Every year for the last three years, Laurie Morton has had Jack on her mind as she laced up her shoes to run in the GCU Foundation Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.
Jack is her 8-year-old son, and it has been six years since he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in March 8, 2010, just before his third birthday.
Morton described Jack being “healthy as a horse” until the family learned he had stage four cancer.
“We don’t even have cancer in our family, so it was a shock,” Morton remembers.
Jack went into treatment at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. In the face of treatment, the nurses encouraged Morton to live in the moment, so Morton and her loved ones celebrated Jack’s every step. They would throw parties, dance to Katy Perry’s “Firework” and make a pizza that read “NED,” for “no evidence of disease.”
That also was when she started running.
“Statistically speaking, Jack shouldn’t be here,” Morton says. “Going to the run is exciting because you see certain kids who couldn’t walk a year ago making it through the lap at the end. I think it comes down to it being our day to say, ‘We’re done. It’s over.’”
Everyone who crosses the finish line at GCU’s Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, scheduled for Saturday, March 12, on campus, has a story. But for many like Morton, the race is personal. Each year, with more than 3,000 runners and spectators, the race helps bring hope and attention to the families and friends of the little troopers battling cancer.
These are a few of their stories.
Like Morton, Wendy Janzen was never a runner. But, after her son Matthew survived cancer, Janzen made it her mission to honor her “cancer-fighting superhero.”
Matthew, 17, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor when he was 9, making one shoulder appear higher than the other. After Matthew met with doctors, who proceeded with surgery to remove the tumor, he was in the hospital for more than a month before he could regain his ability to walk.
And the brave youngster refused to let cancer take direction of his life.
“At the point he left the hospital he was using a walker around our home and a wheelchair for longer distances,” Janzen says. “It was challenging, and he was always striving to get to the next step.”
In 2013, Janzen ran her first 5K for Matthew. Last year, Matthew was right by her side — running.
Without a doubt, the sight was “emotional” and “inspiring,” Janzen said.
“Seven years ago he couldn’t walk, and now he can run,” she said. “He is an overcomer.”
Grayson Shockley is also an overcomer.
His story begins with a lump. At least, that’s what his mother, Michelle, believed he had — “a simple lump on the back of his neck.”
But in July 2014, Grayson, 12, was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, arising from the neck region.
Grayson underwent surgery and a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and he missed out on school and lots of play time with his friends.
“There were times while watching him get his treatments that it was hard for us to still believe it,” Shockley says. “My initial thought was that nine months was a very long time — you can have a baby in nine months.”
Finally, in April 2015, Grayson went into remission.
“He has been tough through it all and it will be almost one year, by the time the run takes place, that he is cancer-free,” she says. “And we thank God each and every day for getting us through it.”
Ann and George Hyduchak loved to run for good causes together. It was their thing to do.
Yet, after running in 5K races 32 times in the last eight years, the couple never imagined the day would come when they would be running for their 5-year-old son, Jace.
Last Thanksgiving, Jace was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow that affected his white blood cells. But rather than dwell on the bad news, the Hyduchaks pushed to think positively.
Ann said that strength and encouragement has come in a large part from community support.
In his honor, the couple has signed up — along with 30 other friends and family members — for the GCU race.
“I can’t wait to see all of Jace’s supporters,” Ann says. “We have four boys total, so we are trying to keep their regular schedules throughout the clinic visits. We have a whole village behind us — from friends who come clean our house, do the grocery shopping, volunteer to pick up the boys from school. Everyone is just a phone call away to help out. I don’t think we could do it without all of that.”
As for Jace, he continues to smile through it all, Ann says.
Jace is required to undergo treatment for three more years, but in the meantime, he’s excited to start kindergarten in the fall.
Last fall was supposed to be a normal start to the school year — new clothes, new supplies and a back-to-school health checkup. But Kendall Baltazar’s doctor visit took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, leaving her and her family with a day they will never forget.
“August 14, 2015 should have been a good day for us,” her mother, Jamie, says. “Instead, we found ourselves circling the wagons and starting treatments to get Kendall healthy.
“It was 9:35 a.m. that day, and I was at work. I heard that there was a three-centimeter tumor in Kendall’s thyroid — most likely carcinoma. Microcalcifications appeared to be there as well. I heard, ‘We will call you back as soon as we know when she will be seen at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.’ The rest was a blur.”
Since then, Kendall’s lymph nodes and thyroid gland have been removed, and she continues to take medication daily.
“She is a tough cookie,” Jamie said. “She has her moments when she doesn’t want to go to the doctors, doesn’t want to take pills every day, she doesn’t want surgery. It stinks being 11 and having to do these things, but she’s very strong.”
The sixth grader proved just how strong she is when she sang “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten at her school’s talent show, after doctors had said there was a chance she would never be able to talk again.
She also has a scar on her neck from one ear to the other that she sports as a “badge of honor,” one she likes to make people believe she earned by getting into a fight with a tiger.
Although a first-timer in the race, Jamie said she is motivated by the 30 people who have signed up to run to the finish line for Kendall.
“I think it helps her to know that she has a huge village around her supporting her,” Jamie says. “She definitely thrives with everyone around her cheering her on.”
Her aunt Shilo Muller says her family is proof that when it comes to cancer, “no one fights alone.”
Because cancer cannot be easily fought alone, GCU has set out to support families in its neighborhood. Statistically, childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly the last few decades, and about 10,380 American children under the age of 15 are presumed to be diagnosed with cancer in 2016. While funding for cancer research remains sluggish, since its inception in 2011 the run has raised nearly $400,000 for Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Children’s Cancer Network.
“It’s within everyone’s capability to make a difference when it comes to children’s cancer — just show up and talk about it,” said Debbie Accomazzo, race director and community outreach manager for GCU. “It’s a serious mission, but it is an accessible mission. When we use the word superhero to describe these children and the community that supports them, we mean it.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.