People deal with bereavement in a variety of different ways. Some handle the lengthy medical illness and death of a loved one by trying to forget it, hoping to never see the inside of a hospital again. Some raise funds for research or some other cause in the memory of their family members.
Following the 2009 death of their 12-year-old daughter, Emily, from kidney cancer, John and Debbie Lewis have embraced her legacy by helping other families with seriously ill children. John Lewis is chairman of the board and a camp counselor at Flying Horse Farms, a camp in central Ohio for children with serious medical conditions. Their son, Andrew, will be a counselor this summer at Camp Okizu, a California facility that provides programs for families dealing with childhood cancer. He had attended a bereavement camp there after his sister’s death.
Debbie Lewis has continued Emily’s fight against pediatric cancer. In 2010, she was a keynote speaker at the Westlake Relay For Life event, raising awareness of cancer’s threat to children. Cancer is the fourth leading cause of death for people under 20, she said.
“The cure of a child saves an entire lifetime,” Lewis said in her remarks.
At the start of 2012, Lewis accepted a job at University Hospitals as development officer for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She had been volunteering for a variety of projects at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.
“I wanted to do more to benefit other kids going through cancer or injury,” she said.
For the fifth straight year, the Lewis Family and a committee of 20 volunteers are running Emily’s Rainbow Run, a four-mile run and two-mile run/walk. The fundraising event takes place Sunday morning at the athletic track at Westlake High School, 27830 Hilliard Blvd. The four-mile race begins at 8 a.m., with the two-mile run/walk beginning five minutes later. A kid’s fun run begins at 9:15 a.m.
Over the past four years, the event has raised nearly $90,000 for pediatric cancer research at Rainbow Hospital. Already this year, the original goal of $5,000 in donations has been reached, Lewis said. Event sponsors have contributed more than $14,000.
New this year will be an appearance by Ketchup, Mustard and Relish, the racing condiments from Cleveland Indians games, Lewis said.
Last year, the race drew 630 runners and walkers. But Lewis said the weather has been a factor in determining participation in previous years. The event is scheduled in April, before the school year ends, so more children will participate even though this month is known for its rain showers, Lewis explained.
Lewis said she believes her daughter would be very proud of her family’s continuation of the fight against pediatric cancer. Emily always participated in events like Relay For Life, even when she was not feeling well, her mother recalled.
“When the opportunity was presented to her, she always grabbed it,” Lewis said.
Emily, who was diagnosed at age 9, never let cancer define who she was as a person, she said.
When her hair began falling out as a side effect of chemotherapy, Emily made a joke of it, her mother recalled. She came down from her bedroom with some fallen-out hair hidden in her hands and began coughing. Then she showed her mother the hair, saying, “Look, I coughed up a hairball!”
Emily participated in the walk during the first Rainbow Run, which took place less than four months before her death. As in past four Rainbow Runs, each runner will be given a button with Emily’s photo. That way, Emily will symbolically walk and run with participants again this year, Lewis said.
Lewis said roughly half of the participants at last year’s Run had some association with the Lewis family, either through Emily’s school, their church or as family friends. That means the other half didn’t; Lewis is glad about that because it means the event and cause is successful in reaching out to the larger community.
While some people seem to think race day is a sad one for the Lewis family because of Emily’s absence, Debbie Lewis said it’s quite the contrary. They see race day as a time to remember her and send a message of hope to other families and children fighting serious illnesses.
“Really it’s a celebration,” she said.
The registration fee for participants in the four-mile race and two-mile run/walk are $25 for adults and $15 for those 18 and under. The first 700 adults and 125 kids who register will receive a T-shirt. The online pre-registration period ended Tuesday. Late registration and race package pick-up takes place from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at St. Ladislas Catholic Church, 2345 Bassett Road. in Westlake. Registration also takes place the day of the race beginning at 6:45 a.m. at Westlake High School.
For more information, visit the race website at http://www. emilysrainbowfund.org/.