Brain tumor survivors from around the region came to Charlotte’s Freedom Park on Saturday morning united to find a cure for the deadly disease.
The National Brain Tumor Society’s first fundraising event in North Carolina included 10K and 5K races and a 5K walk.
Taking part were more than 1,000 survivors, patients, families and friends. They hugged and smiled and fought back tears sharing stories of their struggles.
The Newton, Mass., nonprofit holds 18 fundraising events each year across the country. The goal in Charlotte was to raise $125,000, but the society brought in nearly $150,000, said society spokeswoman Kris Knight.
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She credited an “incredibly engaged” local volunteer community for helping exceed the goal.
“We’re thrilled to have this kind of response,” Knight said. “People have jumped right in this first year. It’s amazing.”
Currently, 700,000 people in the U.S. are living with brain tumors and 70,000 more will be diagnosed in the coming year, Knight said. Each year more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with brain tumors in North Carolina.
The disease has one of the lowest survival rates.
“It’s not as common as other diseases and people feel somewhat isolated,” Knight said. “They don’t meet other folks who understand.”
Saturday’s event was a time “to honor and celebrate all of those people who have been affected by brain tumors,” she said. Also, it raised awareness and funded programs that could help those diagnosed with brain tumors now and in the future.
Brain tumor survivor Sharon Mottola of Cornelius and 25 of her friends participated in the races and the walk under the “Team Sharon” banner.
A nurse manager at Carolinas HealthCare System, Mottola, 41, was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in September 2012.
She’d been having headaches, but even worse were episodes of deju vu. First-time conversations gave her the sense of having done that same thing before.
“I was scared,” Mottola. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
When a doctor walked into the room with test results she didn’t like the look on his face. “I knew something terrible was wrong,” Mottola said. “But a brain tumor never crossed my mind.”
A week later she underwent a three-hour surgery. Since then, things have been good for her.
Mottola came to Freedom Park “so I can help raise more money for a cause that’s near and dear to my heart – and help those who maybe weren’t so lucky.”
For Laura Coker, a 13-year brain tumor survivor from Charlotte, Saturday’s event coincided with her 33rd birthday.
Diagnosed in her sophomore year at UNC Charlotte, she tried to stay calm and positive.
“Some kind of weird calmness came over me,” said Coker, who works at the Levine Cancer Institute. “Going nuts wasn’t helping anybody. I have a lot of angels in heaven and felt they were watching over me. I was super lucky.
She felt walking with the others was the best birthday present she could get. It meant “there’s hope for people not as blessed as I was,” Coker said.
A 17-member team supporting Rachel Banks, a survivor of two brain tumors, had a banner that read: “Life is an adventure: dare it.”
Banks, who lives near Raleigh, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2009. She recalled the fear and frustration.
“There was nobody to tell me what to expect,” she said. Surgery for the second tumor was in January.
On Sunday, she turns 28, but the celebration started Saturday morning as Banks looked forward to meeting other survivors.
“It’ll be nice to talk to somebody who can say they’ve had the same experience,” she said.
As Lane Teller, 30, warmed up for the 10K, he recalled his father’s 37-month fight with brain cancer – a battle he lost two years ago.
Teller, who works with the Federal Reserve, moved to Charlotte with his family two months ago from Portland, Ore. Running the 10K was a way to “honor my father’s memory and anyone affected by brain tumors,” Teller said.
Former nurse Reenie Dacey, 63, of Stanley watched the runners and walkers from a wheelchair. After suffering a stroke in April 2013 she was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer a few months later – a “double whammy,” she called it. Doctors gave her two to four years to live.
No matter how much time she has left, “I live each day as God’s gift,” Darcey said. “I wanted to participate in this event today for sure. These people inspire me – and I want to inspire them.”