Cancer survivors, family and friends join to LIVESTRONG
Rain clouds gave way to sunshine as the runners at the LiveSTRONG Challenge Philly hit the pavement last Saturday morning in Whitpain.
Lauren Costello, 29, a member of Team Cofco, has been participating in the event for seven years in honor of her uncle, who had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The North Wales resident had just completed the 5K run/walk hosted by Montgomery County Community College with her friend, Kristen Markert, 35, of Jeffersonville.
“It’s fun and family and friends,” said Markert. “We all get together.” She’s participated for four years. “It’s a great race. It’s a lot of fun to do. There’s so much energy.” It often rains for the event but, she added, “The sun comes out.”
The annual event raised $2 million this year, said Rae Bazzarre, a spokeswoman for LiveSTRONG, a charity founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, himself a cancer survivor. There were 4,300 participants in the weekend event, which included a 5K and 10K run Saturday and a 10- to 100-mile bike ride Sunday. Some 2,300 did the run/ walk and 2,300 signed up to cycle, she said. Some people participated in both.
One of those doing both legs of the challenge was Ryan Lubas, 27, of Exeter, who was involved because of his mother, Kathy Lubas, a breast cancer survivor.
“I bike a lot and play basketball,” said Lubas. His brother, Jeff Lubas, 32, of Morton, did the 10K run. His Great Dane, Duncan, who did not run, was on hand to greet him at the end of the race.
“I am amazingly proud of them,” said Kathy Lubas, also of Exeter, of her sons. She was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. “It’s overwhelming, the turnout. There’s not one time that I come down that I don’t shed tears.”
“I’m a survivor for 13 years,” said Amy Smith, 54, of New Holland, who was with her 15-member team, the “Malibu Mob.” The team raised $4,000, and she raised $1,300 personally in honor of her 13 years as a survivor.
“I just found out my sister-in-law got diagnosed with breast cancer,” she added. That gave her another reason to take part.
“We just lost our mom to breast cancer May 8,” said Diana Chase, 30, of Willow Grove. “I ran this year in honor of her. She fought hard.” Her team T-shirt read: Running to save the “girls.” And that team raised $2,300.
“We used Facebook [to get donations and members],” Chase said. “Another team member just lost his mom to breast cancer. It hits a lot of us close to home.”
“We did a team in honor of my husband’s aunt, Margie Pfani, who died of cancer in 2010,” said Colleen Hemberger, 29, of Philadelphia.
North Wales, who was on the team, said Margie Pifani’s son, Nick, put the team together.
“It’s awesome,” she said, about the event.
“It was motivating to see so many people,” said Hemberger. Her husband, Matt Hemberger, said their team had 25 to 30 people from 2 to 65 in the run.
“This is my first LiveSTRONG Challenge,” he said. “It’s good.” And it’s also served as a kind of family reunion, he said.
“My friend Rachel [Ramsay] recently passed away,” said Tosha Russock, 29, of Baltimore, who had formed a team in Ramsay’s honor. Ramsay, 29, had worked as a public defender in Philadelphia, said Russock, so that 40-member team’s T-shirt showed a small scale of justice logo. They raised about $7,000 for LiveSTRONG and the proceeds from their T-shirts went to start a scholarship in Ramsay’s honor.
Donte Neal, 31, came to the event from Mickelton, N.J., because his friend, Jairus Lewis, of San Jose, Calif., is undergoing treatment for cancer.
“He’s battling Stage 4,” said Neal, whose team raised $7,000.
Katie Maransky, 15, of Blue Bell, also ran the 5K Saturday.
“My dad’s best friend [Leo Roselli] lost his life to cancer and we have a team [for] him.”
Quite a few families with young children and babies in strollers were on hand.
Ellon Dougan, of Norfolk, Va., brought her daughter, Flannery, to the event in a stroller. Her husband, Brian Dougan, 37, died in May the day before Flannery was born. Before his death, Brian Dougan had taken part in the LiveSTRONG events, so his widow said she promised him before he died that she would continue.
Jodi Frankel, 38, of Upper Dublin, who lost her husband to a rare form of thyroid cancer in March, was with the 50-member team, the “Fighting Frankels.”
“This is our fourth year and I told him we were still doing it in honor of him,” Frankel said. “It feels amazing that I have such a wonderful group of family and friends to support us,” she said. Her children, a 10-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, also took part.
As they neared the finish line, announcers and music cheered them on and some spectators rang cowbells. The survivors received a yellow rose, and yellow banners with the word “hope” lined the area.
Bazzarre said that this is LiveSTRONG’s seventh year in Philadelphia. The charity helps people with cancer, their families and their caregivers, she said. The organization provides patient advocacy and helps people navigate the health system to get services. For example, if people are uninsured, they connect them with programs or if they can’t pay their uncovered medical bills, they provide help. They also help people whose treatments will prevent them from having children with fertility services.
In addition, many cancer patients and survivors also battle depression and other emotional challenges, so LiveSTRONG helps with those issues, as well. The charity also partners with YMCA branches to help survivors get their strength back, she said, noting with the help of sponsors, including RadioShack and Nike, “100 percent of the proceeds go toward helping improve lives.”
Participants of the LiveSTRONG Challenge begin the 5K walk/run held at Montgomery County Community College Aug. 18.