Team Tumor’s Inspirational Ragnar Relay Journey
Through doubt, fear and several setbacks, 14 cancer patients, survivors and supporters came together as Team Tumor at the Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay on June 18 and 19 to inspire people living with cancer and to raise funds for the Huntsman Foundation. The team’s participation proved to themselves and the rest of the world that, “Cancer can’t stop us!”
Team Tumor was uncertain they could participate in the relay because two runners pulled out due to injury within a week of the start, then team captain and co-founder, Suzanne Harsha-Arevalo (colon cancer patient), had to pull out due to the death of her father. Co-captain, Anna Marie Forest (skin cancer survivor), shifted into overdrive and enlisted the help of her other teammates to find replacement runners, coordinate rental vehicles and gather last minute supplies. Miraculously, Team Tumor was at the starting line of the 2010 Wasatch Back Relay.
The Wasatch Back Relay consists of 12-runner teams where each person runs three legs that vary in length from three to eight miles. As one person runs the other team members leap frog two vehicles to each exchange while cheering for the runners along the way. The course totals 188 miles and changes elevation frequently as it snakes along the east side of the Wasatch Mountains from Logan to Park City, Utah.
The goal for team founder, Dov Siporin, was simply to finish. Since being diagnosed with colon cancer three years ago, he has participated in several running events during chemotherapy and between treatments. In the past, racing was about beating back cancer, but now his prognosis has changed from treating for a cure to being terminal, and he had doubts about participating, “If running in these events doesn’t help cure me, does it do any good?”
These thoughts are familiar to team member Jaimee Al-Kinani, a skin cancer survivor and current brain cancer patient, who is now undergoing iron infusions to rebuild her red blood cells, which were decimated by chemotherapy. Her answer was that she needed to do something for herself. She needed this, “emotionally as well as mentally.” Having felt that she missed out on so many things due to her illness, she went against her doctor’s wishes and joined Team Tumor. With her body in upheaval, the organizers allowed her to run in tandem with Sherri Nielsen (breast cancer survivor). Jaimee’s goal for the race was to do a little of each of her assigned legs.
Jaimee impressively completed her entire first leg, but when the time came for her second she had to sit it out while she struggled with a 101 degree fever. By Saturday morning she felt like a wreck, but her fever was gone and she was determined to do her best on the final leg, “I knew I had pushed really hard on Friday, but I figured that I was already going to have a tough recovery so I kept going.” Jaimee and Sherri arrived at their final exchange relieved and satisfied after running the complete length.
In Van #2 Dov felt the pain. From his first leg to his last, he suffered. From past experiences he knew that if you have to walk, or even crawl, you can make it through. On more than one occasion during this race he was on his knees. So when Suzanne was able to join Dov for the final leg of the race it added support, purpose and meaning to the whole journey. In response to his own question before the race, Dov said, “I worry about what I am teaching my kids…it does matter…pushing on no matter what, we still make every moment count. That’s important.”
Team Tumor pushed on with the generous support and participation from healthy runners willing to give their best, and they drew inspiration from their cancer survivor teammates. After 33 hours of racing, Team Tumor crossed the finish line, proving that indeed, cancer can’t stop them.
For more information on Team Tumor and the Huntsman Foundation visit: huntsmancancerfoundation.org/netcommunity/teamtumor.