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

“I’m scared,” she said. “It really has gotten me through thinking about my daughter as I run. I can really push myself to run because I just think about all she’s been through and the pain she’s endured, and I think running is nothing compared to all of the pain she’s gone through.”

Megan Gibson’s 3 1/2-year-old son has been fighting leukemia for more than a year. “This training, for a lot of us, is very therapeutic,” said Gibson, who is helping Christine Aguilar captain the team. “There is a lot of anger and sorrow in our little world, so it’s been really good.”

She said finding time to train has been difficult, so some parents are splitting the legs normally assigned to one runner.

“Our kids do hard things every single day,” said Gibson. “So we can do this one hard thing in honor of them.”

Some, like Groves, will run all three legs on their own.

“I thought it was an awesome thing for all the parents to do,” she said, lowering her voice and fighting tears. “As I watch Gabe every day, he’s on so many medicines, multiple times a day. He’s in the hospital all the time. I watched everything he does and I can run for that. I can do something hard for him and all of the other kids.”

She hopes other parents see their effort and regardless of their struggle see the beauty in how they’re dealing with an impossible situation.

“I don’t know about everybody else, but for me, I want people to know that people can survive and thrive, even though it may be hard. There can be some great things along the way.” One of those unexpected blessings is finding each other.

Jodi Mortensen’s son Carson was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 2.

“There was no support for families whose kids have cancer,” she said. “It’s pretty tough to hear. Nobody wants to go through something like that alone. For me it was, well, I wanted to talk to other moms and families about it.”

Federal privacy laws prevent hospitals from sharing information about other patients, so she was left to find other parents using her skills of deductive reasoning — sad, tired and quite often in the company of a balding youngster. She started a Facebook page and very quickly, parents reached out for help or to offer support to others.

Tony and Christine Aguilar will run for their son Ronin, who is 4.

“He just had a limp to where we thought maybe he had sprained his ankle,” Christine said. “We took him in … and he was diagnosed very quickly.” The emergency room visit turned into 10 days in the hospital.

“Complete shock,” said Christine of how she felt in the days after Ronin’s diagnosis. “It’s not like we’d been struggling for months trying to figure out what was wrong with him. I felt blindsided because we thought maybe he twisted his ankle, something simple.”

Tony Aguilar said it was tough, but he felt he had to be strong for his wife and other children. He said his wife convinced him to participate after catching him “on a good day.”

“We want more pediatric cancer awareness,” he said. “These kids are tough. I work with a couple of other cancer organizations, and I know everybody goes through it, but these kids are amazing. They go through tough stuff every day. Yes, they cry — they kick and scream — but so do adults. I would love to take it away for them.”

Christine adds, “I think a lot of people think it’s rare. And it’s far from rare. It was something I didn’t really think about until it touched my life.”

Mary Driggs was an occasional runner when her daughter, Claire, was diagnosed with acute lymphasitic leukemia at age 15. A year later, she is finally able to return to high school at Olympus and feel like a normal teenager.

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