CHATHAM – Few people can say that cancer hasn't touched their lives, either through their own family or people they know. For Ashley Stearns, that connection was unexpected, and uncomfortably, close.
Stearns was living in Orlando, Fla., when she learned that her father, Blake, had bladder cancer. She came back home, where her parents own and operate Marion's Pie Shop, for her father's surgery and to drive him back and forth to Boston for chemotherapy treatments during the summer.
Blake lost his bladder but is in remission now. But the experience had a profound impact on Ashley, who is raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through the upcoming Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk.
Stearns, her mother Cindy and her fiance Corina will walk 13.1 miles on Sept. 4, tracing half of the Boston Marathon route from Wellesley to Copley Square. The goal of the team is to raise $1,500 for cancer research.
The experience of being around children with cancer had a profound impact on her, Stearns said.
“That touched my heart,” she said in an interview at her parent's shop, which she is now helping to run. Her father had never been sick, so seeing how cancer struck, seemingly randomly, and seeing the dedication of the staff at Dana-Farber, prompted her to want to give something back. As a big Red Sox fan, she knew about the Jimmy Fund, and participating in the fundraising walk just seemed the right thing to do.
“I have no other way to thank them,” she said of the folks who took care of her father.
Originally from Falmouth, Stearns lived in Orlando with the idea of becoming a police officer. But her passion changed, she said, and circumstances prompted her to move back to the Cape and learn the ropes of the pie shop her parents took over about 15 years ago.
Her father's surgery took place last July, and it took six months for him to recover. He's now cancer free and back to working “nonstop,” Stearns said.
“You wouldn't know he ever had it,” she said.
Nearly 10,000 people are expected to participate in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, one of the nation's most successful single-day fundraisers. In the past 29 years, the event has raised more than $110 million for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, supporting research and care for both adult and pediatric cancer. It's the only organize walk permitted to follow the Boston Marathon course, and participants can choose to do the entire 26.2-mile route beginning in Hopkinton, a half-marathon beginning in Wellesley, a 10K walk from Newton or a 5K walk from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston's Longwood Medical area. All of the walks finish on Boylston Street at Copley Square, the marathon finish line.
“Everybody who I come across knows somebody who had cancer,” Stearns said. “I've never had a person who has not known anybody in their life that's had cancer.” Her father is a big part of her life, and doing the walk is both a way to honor him and help find a cure for cancer.
“It's a really cool, positive walk,” she said. “It's a great cause, and all the money goes to research.”
To support Stearns and Team Strike Out, visit www.jimmyfundwalk.org/2017/stearns009. If you are interested in walking, you can register at www.jimmyfundwalk.org. You can also register as a “virtual walker” if you can't make the walk on Sept. 24.