‘We’re here for hope:’ Run to Fight begins 9th season
Story by Ryan Kryska
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Children in the Phoenix community took a well-deserved break from their battle with cancer Friday night at Grand Canyon University Stadium.
The children, parents and adult cancer survivors crossed the lines of the pitch at the GCU men’s soccer game to kick off Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, the largest fundraising event in Arizona dedicated solely to children’s cancer.
The children were walked out by players for the national anthem, donning gold capes because they truly are superheroes. A few of the children also led the Havocs’ Thunder Clap.
The ninth annual Run to Fight race is scheduled for March 16 and will feature a 10K, 5K and Cancer Survivors Walk. The honorary race starter for the day will be 6-year-old Gwen Satterlee, a Chandler resident who was diagnosed two years ago with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
A previous race starter, 14-year-old Emma Kerr, led the Havocs’ Thunder Clap with her sister and last year’s starter, 4-year-old Lily Gray.
Emma, whose leukemia is in remission, said she wasn’t the least bit nervous to lead the clap. She said hitting the drum was the most exciting part of the day. She did it with the confidence of a 14-year-old beating cancer.
“This journey has kind of taught us to seek help and be accepting of it,” Emma’s mother, Ildi Kerr said. “Once we really started to accept the love, it made such a big difference. It keeps them fighting. She’s gotten to do lots of cool things with GCU since being race starter.”
Jackson Dupps, 7, was also at the race for his second-straight year. His mother, Kelli Dupps, said Jackson is five years cancer-free next month. He was diagnosed at 1 with kidney cancer.
“It really taught us how important community is and how it feels good when you are going through that to have a community of support,” Dupps said. “We’re here getting to do fun stuff and celebrate right now.”
Dupps said she was very impressed with how the run last year was attended by so many students. She said the signs they made were extremely uplifting, and that Jackson remembers the moment.
“It’s just awesome. We were reminiscing walking in and he said, ‘This is where the Survivors Walk is!’” Dupps said. “That makes me so emotional being so close to his five years of survivorship.”
Another survivor, 29-year-old Robert Nicolau, has been attending the race since 2016 in support of his fellow warriors, young and old.
Nicolau has been battling CML leukemia for eight years. He said the fight has taken a turn back in the past few months, prompting him to take four chemotherapy pills a day. But there is hope on the horizon.
Doctors are searching for a stem-cell match for Nicolau. The transplant would be followed by more than a month of intense chemotherapy and radiation.
Nicolau’s sister, Constanza Nicolau, is a half match for the stem-cell transplant and said she is more than willing to help her brother fight cancer if a full match isn’t found.
“He’s been going through it for eight years. The moments where he goes back and those moments at remission,” Constanza Nicolau said before taking a deep breath. “Hopefully I can be his donor.”
The siblings’ mother, Vanesa Eacott, attended the race in support of her son and her best friend, who lost the battle with cancer.
Eacott said that the family met a woman named Constanea Roberto when they moved to Phoenix more than a decade ago. The name, which bears bizarre resemblance to Eacott’s children, Robert and Constanza, was just the beginning of a great friendship between the two.
But Roberto was diagnosed with cancer and died in Eacott’s arms in 2006.
“We’re here for hope,” Eacott said, “to help for the research.”
Patti and Steve Luttrell, the executive director and board president of Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, started the event in 2011 to help families suffering through the battle with cancer like they did with their son, who was diagnosed with leukemia at 3 and has fought all his life to make it to 30.
“It’s time to pull together as a community, and we want to give families opportunities to do just that,” Patti Lutrell said. “We empathize with the journey and we just want to help other families. This makes them realize they are not alone.”
Last year, 2,300 runners participated in the race. Since its inception, the event has raised nearly $600,000 for families battling the disease. Click here to register for one of the runs and learn more about Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.
Contact Ryan Kryska at (602) 639-8415 or [email protected].