Emotional stories launch UMass Medicine Cancer Walk

Kick off breakfast inspires team leaders, volunteers to raise money for cancer research

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

June 17, 2011

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


get involvedThe newly renamed UMass Medicine Cancer Walk will continue the tradition established in 1999, when the first Walk to Cure Cancer took place on Labor Day. Since then, the annual event has raised more than $6.5 million to benefit cutting-edge cancer research at UMass Medical School and the UMass Memorial Cancer Center of Excellence. Funds raised by the five-mile walk have supported research studies, state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and equipment and, most importantly, the world-renowned scientists and medical professionals of UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial who are collaborating to find a cure. 

There is still time for new and returning volunteers who missed the breakfast to sign on for the 2011 UMass Medicine Cancer Walk, which will take place rain or shine on Sunday, Sept. 25. All members of the UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial community are encouraged to learn about how they can make a difference as team leaders, walkers or volunteers. Team leader kits including information and supplies for building a successful walk team are available, and walk staff are ready to assist. 

Contact the Cancer Walk staff at cancerwalk@umassmed.edu


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