Walk aims to conquer childhood cancer

Olivia Crowley, of Cleveland Heights, was seven years old when she was diagnosed with cancer. Photo courtesy of the Crowley family.

The first CureSearch walk in Cleveland, planned for May 8 at Wade Oval from 9 to 11:30 a.m., will raise awareness and funding for childhood cancer research.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for children, according to CureSearch. The organization, which works with the Children’s Oncology Group and National Childhood Cancer Foundation to fund research, will play a major role in the Northeast Ohio CureSearch Walk to Conquer Childhood Cancer, according to cochair Stephen Crowley.

Crowley and his wife, Cynthia Van Lenten, are organizing the walk. Posters advertising the event feature photographs of their daughter, Olivia, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2002. She was 7 years old. For the next three years, she underwent treatment, including chemotherapy in hospitals from Memphis to New York. Described by her father as a vibrant child, who loved soccer and wanted to be a comedian, died in 2005.

"She was full of life, and it made it really hard to see that something like this could happen to somebody like that," Crowley said. "My wife and I did everything we could to try to save her. We spent a lot of energy and resources trying to find a cure for her, so we decided to put the same energy and work into trying to help other children and other families."

With support from members of the community, Crowley and Van Lenten now dedicate their time to raising awareness, ensuring that everyone knows that the top priority is donating the dollars to fund the research that will help find a cure.

"Cure rates for childhood cancer have gone from 30 percent in the 1980s to 78 percent today. That’s amazing," Crowley said, "but that still leaves one out of every four children."

Stacey Brown-Walker, sponsorship chair for the walk, says she encourages local companies and individuals to donate and attend. All the proceeds of the walk will go to fund childhood cancer research.

"You can sponsor on a corporate level, you can donate individually, or you can sign up to walk. We will take sponsorships up until the day of the walk, and then after that, people can donate directly to CureSearch," said Brown-Walker, noting that on-site registration for the event opens at 8 a.m.

Several schools, hospitals and businesses have already formed teams and donated, including the Cleveland Clinic, Akron Children’s Hospital, Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and the Cleveland Orchestra, Crowley said.

Six members of the CUT Hair Studio team will walk and help collect donations at the event, according to Shawn Paul Gustafson, salon manager and community liaison. "We also will be working the crowd at Lopez Southwestern Food Kitchen on Thursday, April 15, and donating our tips to this cause," he said. "I personally, along with the great Lopez staff, will be working behind the bar."

Gustafson said visitors to the bar can enjoy half-priced tequila drinks, signature cocktails and food, while the rest of the business’s employees will share information about CureSearch with patrons. "It’s good to see the whole community coming together to take care of such an important issue," Gustafson said.

Organizing the walk has been a reminder of hope for Brown-Walker, whose son Caleb was diagnosed with clear-cell sarcoma of the kidney in March 2009. "He was a very, very active 4-year-old boy. He went through 26 rounds of chemotherapy," she said. "All through treatment, he played sports, like soccer and T-ball." Caleb went into remission in September.

"We are blessed every day that he is here with us, and we’re very thankful that he’s in remission," she said. "Once you’re diagnosed, there’s always the possibility that it will come back. But when he was going through treatment, we tried to take one thing at a time."

Brown-Walker said the walk is helping to unite the community. "I think that it shows support for the children who are currently going through treatment, or the families that unfortunately have lost a child to cancer," she said. "It gives them encouragement and it shows them that this is very real, and that we are working to find a cure for this."

Attendees will meet outside the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for early registration. For more information, go to www.curesearchwalk.org.

Kelli Fontenot is a journalist living in Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 12:08 AM, 03.23.2010