Emotions deep at Fight 2 the Finish run against cancer

Saturday , August 09, 2014 - 1:24 PM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN -- When Maddie Cook began experiencing severe pain in her knee, her doctor thought it was most likely tendinitis.

But none of the medicine he prescribed helped her, so she was sent to an orthopedic surgeon.

"I saw his physician assistant and he thought it was weird because I'm not very athletic," she said. "He ordered an MRI and it showed that I had bone cancer."

Fortunately, her cancer was caught early. After a round of chemotherapy, Maddie has been declared cancer-free.

Some of her friends, however, were not as fortunate.

On Saturday, Maddie, along with hundreds of other people, ran in the second annual Fight 2 the Finish race. Before the race began, the 17-year-old Syracuse resident released several balloons of varying colors, each representing the type of cancer her friends died from.

F2TF is a branch of Anything For a Friend, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those with life-threatening illnesses, said Ann Smith, whose son Tyler was a recipient of Anything for a Friend's 2011 fundraiser during his fight with a rare form of liver cancer. Tyler lost his battle with the disease in May 2012.

"When he was going through treatment, he was brought a gift from a boy he met during treatment, Dylan Shaw, who was also battling a rare brain cancer," she said. "Dylan also lost his life in July of 2011. This gift was a large tree branch with all sorts of cards, cash and ribbons tied all over the branch."

Smith said her son was so touched by the gift, he wanted to “pay it forward”’ and share it with others he had met fighting his own awful disease.

"The tree kept moving around to this group of darling teenagers with cancer," Smith said. "By June of 2012, all but one of the kids who was involved in the trees had lost their battles. We decided to start a fundraising effort to continue the trees in Tyler’s honor and keep bringing hope to those who were hit with cancer."

To date, more than 100 Giving Trees have been delivered to many, not just in Utah, but all over the United States.

"Home Depot has become a sponsor of the Giving Trees and provides a live tree now that the recipient can plant, a reminder that life is beautiful and there is still hope beyond this challenge," Smith said. Founded by Becky Anderson, a breast cancer survivor, Anything For a Friend/F2TF matches up to $500 raised for each tree requested. The goal this year is to be able to match up to $1,000.

"I am so excited for the race and all the emotions it brings. It is a big bucket-filler for me," Smith said. "While our hearts are still hurting and a hole in our hearts is still too big to ever fill, there is something about watching another who is hurting smile that makes us feel like Tyler is proud of us and we are doing something he would want to continue."

Maddie said that is one of the main reasons she participates in the fundraising race.

"It gives hope to the families and even the ones going through hard times," she said. "It's for those who struggle with other diseases or have hard times in their lives, and not just cancer."

Bailey Gard, 16, of Hooper, was there supporting her mother, Kelli, who overcame breast cancer but now suffers with leukemia. She brought 75 of her friends with her, and together they formed "Team Kelli."

"Last year, she heard about Tyler and wanted to get involved, and this year I decided to do it again for her," Bailey said. "It's hard to have to watch her go through everything. She never complains, though, and it's made me a stronger person knowing how hard she's fought. If she can go through this and overcome it, then I can go through anything."

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