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Stories of loss, survival and hope at the 2019 UMass Cancer Walk Kickoff

By UMass Medical School Communications

UMass Medical School Communications

June 05, 2019

At an event characterized by a mix of smiles and tears, the race to raise money for the 2019 UMass Cancer Walk and Run officially began on June 3 as more than 100 team leaders, cancer survivors and event sponsors gathered at the Albert Sherman Center.

The evening began with a video featuring the story of Nicolle Lockward-Valera of Worcester, who died in November at the age of 10 from an aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Nicolle and her family participated in the walk last year, and since her passing, the family continues to help raise awareness and support for cancer research here. “UMass is our second family,” Nicolle’s mother Aimee said.

The UMass Cancer Walk and Run is set for Sunday, Sept. 22. All proceeds from the event support adult and pediatric cancer research and care, and clinical trials of new potentially lifesaving cancer therapies at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center. For more information or to register visit https://umassmed.edu/cancerwalk/.

Richard Carr, president of the Carr Financial Group in Worcester and this year’s chairperson for the walk, gave an inspirational talk about his personal battles with cancer. He was diagnosed with different forms of cancer, first at age 29, then again at 39. In both cases, novel chemotherapy and surgical treatments proved to be the cures.

“Today I’m 51, and I will never know, nor be able to thank, all of the people who supported the research that saved my life,” Carr said. “That’s why, for me, participating in the cancer walk is so impactful. The dollars raised and the research we support will lead to new treatments and, ultimately to lives saved. It is a privilege for me to be involved and to be able to encourage others to participate. The Cancer Walk is a truly glorious community event.”

Jonathan Gerber, MD, the Eleanor Eustis Farrington Chair in Cancer Research, chief of the Division of Hematology-Oncology in the Department of Medicine, medical director of the UMass Cancer Center and associate professor of medicine, discussed the center’s clinical trials of novel cancer therapies, and its reliance on community support. “The money raised through the Cancer Walk is essential for us to offer patients access to these clinical trials,” Dr. Gerber said.

Cancer researcher Regino Mercado-Lubo, MD, postdoc in microbiology & physiological systems, gave an update on his work searching for better ways to treat drug-resistant forms of cancer. Michael Gustafson, MD, president of UMass Memorial Medical Center, spoke about programs to enhance cancer care and other clinical services at the center. 

UMassFive Credit Union, which raised more than $24,000 last year to win the inaugural UMass Cancer Walk Business Challenge, was recognized at the event. The credit union’s President and CEO Richard Kump, also a member of the volunteer steering committee, donned a “we’re number one” foam finger as he strode to the podium carrying the gleaming winner’s cup. “We are in no hurry to give up that cup,” Kump said, urging other companies to take up the challenge and try to outraise the credit union this year.

Over the past 20 years, UMass Cancer Walk supporters have raised more than $14 million. More than 8,000 people walked or ran last year, and the event won the Worcester Magazine Best of Worcester 2019 Award for a regional fundraising event.

“It was quite a night, very emotional and inspiring.” said Beth Whitney, manager of the walk. “This is all about helping our community overcome cancer, and I think we are off to a great start.”

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