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‘Run to Fight’ race starter symbolizes hope for cancer kids

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

The diagnosis came in the summer of 2011. By the following Easter, Beth Welch struggled with the image of her “bald and miserable” 4-year-old son.

As a mother, it seemed impossible not to worry — especially in the early rounds of treatment.

She witnessed the feeding tubes and spinal taps. She recognized her boy’s weight loss, his “’roid rage” from steroids designed to help his body heal, and the 10 rounds of cranial radiation treatment that made him lose his hair. All of it reminded her and her family about the potentially fatal outcome of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Jack Welch, 6, will serve as honorary race starter at the March 8 GCU Run to Fight Children’s Cancer. (Photo courtesy of Beth Welch)

“It’s actually all kind of a blur,” said Welch, whose son, Jack, is now 6. “They throw every bit of a medical terminology at you … and then they tell you every side effect … and you’re sitting there sobbing. My eyes were so swollen.”

More than two years later, after soldiering through treatments at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Jack is growing stronger by the day as he prepares to serve as the honorary race starter for the fourth Phoenix running of the Grand Canyon University Foundation Run to Fight Children’s Cancer on March 8.

For a short video about Jack and the Welch family, click here. Visit www.runtofightcancer.com for information about registration and aiding the cause.

Last year, the 5K and 10K races raised more than $100,000 to support the hospital and nonprofit Children’s Cancer Network. The organization has a resource center based in Chandler, although it assists families throughout Arizona, helping parents and their ill children with everything from stress prevention to covering some of the many expenses associated with childhood cancer.

Even though Jack’s family faced early scares with prognoses that forecast the worst possible outcomes, the first-grader is poised for a full recovery. He handles routine checkups and treatments as effortlessly as he swings a bat or pops a jump shot on his youth baseball and basketball teams.

Beth Welch, her husband, Keith; and their 10-year-old daughter, Natalie, will be among thousands of supporters at the race in March. The event includes a cancer survivors’ walk and tributes to those who passed away. Many of the thousands of runners and walkers participate with a loved one or friend in mind.

“I think it will be fun for Jack, for him to be in the spotlight … for other people to see that children can survive cancer,” Beth Welch said.

The Welch family participated in the past two Run to Fight events, supporting the family of Grace Kostyk, a past honorary race starter who was diagnosed with ALL around the same time as Jack. Grace, like Jack, is in recovery but still faces more years of preventative treatment to avoid relapses.

Patti Luttrell, a GCU adjunct professor of nursing, launched Children’s Cancer Network after coping with her own son’s cancer diagnosis and several relapses into his early 20s. She met Jack very early in his treatment, when he was weak, sick and frustrated.

“He was only 4, so he really didn’t understand it all,” Luttrell said. “You take medicine to make you feel better, but chemo makes you feel worse. That’s a hard concept for kiddos.

“To see him now, where he’s running around and playing and still in treatment and fighting, but clearly winning,” Luttrell said, “that to me symbolizes hope.”

Luttrell said Jack serves as an example of how children can fight through leukemia. She added that his family also was united and supportive, which helped his recovery.

Not all families are similar. Many struggle with basic needs for their other children or simply cannot pay for mounting health care costs. Children’s Cancer Network provides less-fortunate parents with gift packages, prepaid gas cards and other things to ease the emotional, physical and financial strains of childhood cancer.

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or michael.ferraresi@gcu.edu.

Michael Ferraresi :