More than a race: Parents of children with cancer will run Wasatch Back relay in honor of their kids

Published: Friday, June 14 2013 4:00 p.m. MDT

Cheryl Rounds holds her daughter, Annika, Monday, June 3, 2013, in Sandy as a group of families whose children have cancer meet to discuss logistics for a Ragnar race in June where their team, "If my kid can fight cancer, I can run Ragnar!" will run in honor of their children.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

When Cheryl Rounds gazed at her newborn daughter, all she saw was a beautiful healthy baby.

But sometimes when she listened to little Annika cry, she knew something was wrong.

“She had this painful cry, and she did it twice,” said Rounds. “But it wasn’t like a normal kid cry. It was like, ‘I’m in so much pain.’ It was more a scream than a cry.” It took four doctors, but when Annika was 10 weeks old, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

“She had stage 4 (cancer) at 10 weeks old,” said Rounds. “It was along her spine, in 80 percent of her liver, and it was also in her bone marrow. And she was like this perfect little baby.”

Disbelief gave way to sadness, fear and anger as Rounds watched her baby fight for her life. But she quickly discovered that the parents of children with cancer don’t have time to be swept away by self-pity. They may feel moments of helplessness and fear, but they also have children to comfort, families to care for, jobs to maintain, houses to clean and bills to pay.

While their children fight for their lives, they battle for normalcy.

“It absolutely changed us,” said Mandalina Groves, whose son Gabriel was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor at age 3. “I remember throwing up after finding out. I was three months pregnant, and I threw up on my neighbor’s lawn. I remember thinking, ‘I just want my life back.’ But I also wouldn’t change it because of what I’ve learned. But it is hard.”

The tears glisten in her eyes as she talks about how she’s become adept at savoring each moment, even those annoyances that most parents dread.

"I just enjoy my life every day, and I don’t worry too much about the future,” she said. "I enjoy him for the things he offers. … I enjoy things that other people might find irritating.”

Parents who watch their children endure cancer treatments feel much more than sadness or pity. They are also inspired by the strength, determination and joyful spirit the young patients exhibit throughout years of painful, debilitating treatment.

One group, most of whom connected with each other through a Facebook support group for mothers, is so inspired, its members plan to run 200 miles to honor their children and make the world aware of their fight against childhood cancers.

The group formed a team for the Ragnar Relay’s Wasatch Back, which begins next Thursday and traverses nearly 200 miles along the back of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. A dozen mothers, three dads and one aunt make up the "If my kid can fight cancer, I can run Ragnar!” team, and their plan is to raise awareness while honoring their children.

“I don’t think a lot of people know about childhood cancer,” said Rounds, who taught her 15-month-old Annika sign language so she can communicate with her about her needs. “I didn’t. I think I knew Primary Children’s (Medical Center) had an oncology unit, but you just don’t want to think about it. And so, I guess that’s my thing. I want people to know it exists, and I want more funding for childhood cancer. …Finding cures requires funding.”

About half of the parents were not runners before they began training for the Wasatch Back.

“I wouldn’t do it,” said Rounds laughing. “Running is so hard! I do think about my daughter when I run. I want to tell her one day that her mom ran for her, which will probably never happen again.”

She said she’s intimidated by the challenge.

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