I believe our lives are most useful when used to serve others. My heart’s intention is to seek opportunities where my strengths are welcome and utilized.
Advocate Children’s Hospital-Oak Lawn fed that hungry desire, by inviting me and 28 other avid runners, to mentor 29 cancer survivors from their Pediatric Oncology Survivorship Transition (POST) clinic.
The goal is to mentor children who have battled pediatric cancer and to participate in the Eighth Annual Running for Hope 5K run/walk on June 7. Each Tuesday evening, training sessions will include: warm-up, walk and/or run, cool down, stretching, and a “running homework” assignment.
Linda Rivard is an ACH Registered Nurse for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. She’s the POST clinic coordinator.
“Our adolescents and young adults who’ve been through chemotherapy and radiation can have late effects,’’ Rivard said. “The POST Clinic began in 2004 to help detect and minimize possible negative effects that arise from treatment.”
Rivard has professional and personal experience with pediatric cancer. Her son, Billy, was diagnosed with Leukemia at age five. After receiving treatment, he went into remission but relapsed at age eight, warranting a full bone marrow transplant by age nine.
“Billy had total body radiation,” Rivard said. “The treatment saved his life, but it was hard on his body. He’s had a kidney transplant, multiple skin cancers and his thyroid removed. He also has a suppressed immune system. Billy’s complications aren’t typical; he’s more of an exception. However post care is critical, it can prevent loss of life and increase a survivor’s quality of life.”
Billy persevered and is now 24 years old. On May 2, he will graduate from Western Michigan University with a degree in secondary education with an emphasis in biology.
Bring on the Kleenex -- those who know Billy’s backstory probably won’t have a dry eye come graduation day.
It could be boo-hoo in Kalamazoo. But that’s a good thing.
Rivard partnered with ACH Manager of Child Life Services Lisa Boland, in starting the POST Challenge back in 2008, one year after Boland and three other co-founders began the Running for Hope 5K Race/Walk.
“I was running with a friend one day and we were reflecting on everything families affected by cancer go through. We wanted to find a way to help so we decided to organize a race to see if we could raise any money to support them,” said Boland. “Our first race was in 2007 and we raised 50,000.”
Talk about an enriching conversation turned fruitful. And, each year it’s gotten better. “Collectively, we’ve raised upwards of $600,000.” said Boland, “I’m very humbled by the response we continue to get year after year.” Boland said the funds are donated to the Ronald McDonald House and Advocate Children’s Hospital, which this year, will allocate its funds to the greatest area of need, the Cardiac Nuero Development Clinic.
The POST Challenge is a great way for survivors to be reintroduced back into physical activity.
“Eating right and physical activity is critical to a survivor’s overall recovery.” Rivard said. “The POST Challenge is funded from grant money supplied by Cure-It and Survivor Vision. We’re able to supply POST Challenge participants with their running shoes, socks, a training t-shirt and pre and post-race snacks. The race entry fee is also covered.”
Talk about sweetening the pot! Those are some pretty generous incentives, but, perhaps not as valuable as the comradery.
“Our first POST Challenge had 10 participants. It’s grown each year,” Rivard said. “And, we have a high rate of return; some of our survivors have taken this challenge since it started.’’
Each survivor participating also brings one buddy, so including their mentor, there’s about 90 people training together.
“It’s a safe place to come together and receive social and emotional support” said Boland.
Come race day, Boland said she expects about 2,500 participants which usually include over 80 teams who are running/walking in honor or memory of someone. It’s a full-fledged family affair that also includes a Kids Dash. For information on registration or volunteerism visit http://runningforhope.net
If you think Billy’s got a great survival story, there’s more where that came from. Several POST Clinic Challengers have agreed to share their stories with you and they will appear in this column in the coming weeks.
You won’t want to miss what they have to say.
I will be posting these stories on my social media as well. Visit www.ClaudiaParker.net and click the Facebook and/or Twitter links.
Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.