New and returning volunteers at the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk Kick Off Breakfast were inspired by the moving story of 18-year-old cancer survivor Haley Johnston, pictured here giving the keynote address at the June 16 event.
A vision of youthful vitality, 18-year-old cancer survivor Hayley Johnston does not look like someone who just endured a battle for her life. Only 17 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Johnston spent much of her senior year of high school either in treatment or at home. But with the help of new advances in medicine and a skilled team at the UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence, she beat the cancer and successfully graduated from St. Peter Marian High School. This fall she will attend Assumption College to pursue her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. “I will teach them to be strong and I will teach them to give back,” she said of her future pupils.
Johnston was the keynote speaker at the kick off breakfast for this year’s UMass Medicine Cancer Walk, formerly called the Walk to Cure Cancer. Held at the Lazare Research Building on June 16, the annual breakfast introduced attendees to how they can make a difference as team leaders, walkers or volunteers. The walk, which will take place rain or shine on Sunday, Sept. 25, is still months off, but team leaders will be busy building their teams and soliciting donations in the meantime.
By the time Johnston finished her tale, there was not a dry eye in the room. She told of moving beyond her first worry, ‘What about my hair?’, learning who her real friends were, continuing her schoolwork at home while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and having to stay away from the children she loves to avoid their germs. Asked why she agreed to speak at the breakfast when she could have been sleeping in or at the beach like other new high school graduates, she said, “I’m here today to help other people because so many people helped me, and now I can give back. I’m ready to start my next chapter.”
Others who spoke at the breakfast, including Robert Haines Jr., retiring president of the AFL-CIO and a walk founder, were equally passionate about their participation in the fight against cancer underway at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care. “The UMass Cancer Center of Excellence is a cancer center that is built by the community, for the community,” said Michael Blute, MD, the Mary C. DeFeudis Chair in Cancer Care and Research, professor of surgery and director of the Cancer Center of Excellence. “We are proud of your support.”
Learn more about the UMass Medicine Cancer Walk at http://www.umassmed.edu/cancerwalk/index.aspx.