Heartbreak and hope inspire Massey Challenge participants to fundraise for cancer research
For the fourteenth year, VCU Massey Cancer Center was proud to be an official charitable partner of the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K. A Sports Backers’ event, the race has become one of Richmond’s most iconic events and beloved traditions over its 20-year history. In the months leading up to the 10K, hundreds of walkers, runners and cancer awareness advocates made their miles matter by fundraising for Massey’s lifesaving cancer research through an initiative known as the Massey Challenge.
“The 10K is such a fun and exciting event to be a part of,” said Jillian Rountree, Massey Challenge and 10K participant and administrative assistant for hematology, oncology and palliative care at Massey. “There is such a sense of community and team spirit before, during and after the race!”
The challenge enhances that sense of community by uniting fundraisers who share Massey’s vision of a future without cancer. This year, 280 Massey Challenge participants, together with 10K participant donations and sponsor contributions, raised $246,000 through the 2019 Massey Challenge.
Altogether, almost 4,000 individuals donated, demonstrating how small gifts quickly add up to create a major impact. Money raised through the Massey Challenge will go right to work funding research at Massey Cancer Center that could lead to discoveries and new, more effective cancer treatments.
“Much of the work that we do to translate our laboratory research into cutting-edge clinical trials directly depends on the generosity of our donors,” explained Steve Grossman, M.D., deputy director of Massey Cancer Center and Dianne Nunnally Hoppes Chair in Cancer Research. “Even though much of our laboratory research is funded by prestigious grants from private foundations and the federal government, there is paradoxically very little funding available for the specific steps necessary to move promising research from the bench to the bedside, and we deploy our philanthropic dollars to a large extent to that critical area so that we can continue our quest to improve outcomes for cancer patients in Richmond and, indeed, across the globe.”
Grossman, sees firsthand the impact philanthropy has on getting us closer to a future without cancer, was inspired to donate to the Massey Challenge and run the 10K for the third year in a row. For participants who do not have direct access to witnessing incredible research outcomes, motivation to fundraise on behalf of Massey is often much more personal. Just a few clicks on MasseyChallenge.com reveal fundraisers’ stories of loss, survivorship and hope, and the spirit and sense of community surrounding the fundraising program become palpable.
Hope for a cure
Leland Klim, a member of Long & Foster’s Massey Challenge team Agents of Hope, is one of the many fundraisers with a heartbreaking yet inspiring story. She has four family members who have faced cancer, and this year she ran the 10K and fundraised in honor of her sister-in-law.
“My sister-in-law, Shannon Cook, was diagnosed with Stage IV HER2+ breast cancer approximately 20 months ago at age 33,” said Klim. “She endured 23 rounds of chemotherapy and thankfully presents no active evidence of disease at this time. She has gracefully balanced the fight for her life alongside her role as a wife and mother caring for two small children. However, she will not be fully healed until a cure is found.”
Klim is one of many Long & Foster employees who have been personally affected by cancer, and, like her colleagues, she is grateful to Brian Haug, their regional senior vice president, for encouraging them to give back to their community and for choosing a platform so close to so many of their hearts. While their experiences with the disease united their team, their shared belief that a future without cancer is possible is what drove their impressive fundraising efforts.
“Massey is making a significant impact with lifesaving cancer research and providing critical patient support programs for people just like Shannon,” Klim said. “As an NCI-designated cancer center, Massey has contributed substantially to the increased number of cancer survivors. Supporting Massey is a no brainer!”
A first-time Massey Challenge team, Long & Foster raised nearly $28,000 for cancer research, exceeding their original goal by $12,000 and coming in just shy of earning the top fundraising spot. In a tight competition, longtime team St. ChristoCURES, comprised of students, faculty, staff, parents and friends of St. Christopher’s School, barely hung onto the lead by raising more than $29,000 to defend their title as the top Massey Challenge team.
Finding a community
In the days leading up to the 10K, Massey Challenge fundraisers and donors stopped by the TowneBank Health and Fitness Expo to pick up their race bibs and explore the many vendor and sponsor booths. Massey’s booth quickly became both a place for Massey Challenge participants to collect their commemorative Team Massey shirts, which they earned by raising or donating $100 or more, and to tell their stories, find comfort in the community created by the challenge and share their aspirations of helping Massey researchers find a cure.
Faith Greenwood, a realtor with Long & Foster, was among the many Massey Challenge participants who offered to volunteer at the expo, and she graciously spent several hours handing out t-shirts and encouraging people to sign or write messages on the Banner of Hope. In between her conversations with expo attendees, Greenwood used what little downtime she had to make “in honor of” and “in memory of” race bibs to wear during the 10K. By the end of the expo, her bibs were full of names.
“This year had special meaning to me and those I walked for,” Greenwood said after completing the 2019 10K. “In 2017, I lost a close friend to cancer—she died six weeks before her first grandchild was born. In 2018, I lost another close friend to a rare form of cancer. Both of these women were taken in the prime of their lives. And on March 30 this year, I lost my 90-year-old father. He had cancer for 34 years. So, on April 13, I attached my ‘in memory of’ and ‘in honor of bibs’ to the back of my Team Massey/Agents of Hope shirt, and walked those 6.2 miles in memory of Daddy, Ellice, Karen and so many others. I also walked to honor many MORE survivors, which is the good news!”
Greenwood’s experience with the Massey Challenge began in 2010 when she took up running as a way to celebrate her 50th birthday. She joined the YMCA 10K Training Team, accepted the Massey Challenge and completed the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K for the first time while raising thousands of dollars for cancer research. After a rewarding first experience, she decided to make Massey Cancer Center her charity of choice, and by 2015, Greenwood was one of the top Massey Challenge fundraisers.
“In 2015, the year of my 55th birthday, I walked the 10K and once again raised money for Massey,” Greenwood reflected. “I wore the special bibs covered with names of those I was walking for, and with each step, I thought of those who had lost their battle with cancer, those who were cancer survivors and those who were currently undergoing treatment.”
Since first becoming involved in 2010, Greenwood’s philanthropic involvement with Massey has expanded above and beyond the Challenge. She has and continues to serve on various committees, including one for Women & Wellness, that work to advance the efforts of Massey’s development office, and she is a valued community advocate. She even played a vital role in advocating for the formation of Long & Foster’s Agents of Hope team, and she personally raised more than $4,500 toward their team total.
“I am passionate about preventing and curing cancer,” said Greenwood. “I am proud of the research and good work going on at Massey.”
Race day celebrations
Early risers preparing to run or walk the 10K were greeted by the roaring sound of downpours on race day morning, April 13. While the rain continued to come in fits and bursts, by the time participants gathered at the starting line, the worst of it had passed, and mild temperatures made for great running weather.
Of course, even if the rain had persisted, Massey Challenge participants, many of whom are cancer survivors, refused to see it as an obstacle. Massey Cancer Center’s very own researchers were among those who remained undeterred, and many of them, along with several Advisory Board members and cancer survivors, gathered together to wish each other luck before they ventured out onto the 10K course.
“It truly is an exhilarating experience to be a part of such enormous community spirit put behind our goal of ending the suffering around cancer,” observed Grossman.
That spirit was evident throughout the day, as hundreds of gold Team Massey shirts could be spotted as 10K participants made their way to the finish line. Even Brian Brown, who was selected in the 10K’s Dash for the Cash competition, showed off his Massey pride.
A VCU marketing professor, Brown was randomly selected to receive a two-mile head start on the 10K course and race to the finish in an effort to get there before the elite runners. Having lost his sister-in-law to cancer the year before, Brown graciously chose to use the spotlight to raise awareness for Massey’s locally conducted, lifesaving cancer research. Cheers abounded as he crossed the finish line first, taking home a cash prize of $2,500.
While Brown and the first-place men and women’s runners were the only participants to experience the feeling of breaking the finish line tape that day, Massey Challenge fundraisers may argue that they, too, felt like winners. Many fundraisers met or exceeded their goals, both in fundraising and in completing the 10K, and the day was a welcome celebration of their months-long, selfless focus on supporting and advocating for cancer research.