As Jillian ran the course of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in a St. Jude Heroes singlet, a woman on the sidelines who was cheering on the runners pointed at her and shouted, “Thank you, St. Jude Hero! You saved my daughter’s life!”
Jillian started crying. What the cheering woman didn’t know was St. Jude Heroes had helped save Jillian’s daughter, too.
After baby girl Harper was born with neuroblastoma — a cancerous mass in her newborn belly, and later, several more in her liver — Jillian and her husband, Owen, turned to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent since it opened. And because the majority of St. Jude funding comes from individual supporters, St. Jude has the freedom to focus on what matters most — saving kids regardless of their financial situation.
Supporting St. Jude’s mission is why Jillian and Owen signed up to participate in the 2014 St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend as St. Jude Heroes. As Heroes, they raised funds for St. Jude in honor of Harper with a team of about 25 people from their hometown.
Everyone on the team committed to running one of the races — either the 5K, the half marathon or the marathon. For some, it was a daunting prospect. “A couple of the friends I trained with never thought they could do a half marathon,” said Jillian, “but they finished the race, and it was just an amazing experience. They loved every second of it.”
A festive atmosphere colors the event — from the runners to the onlookers to the St. Jude patients who come out to cheer as the race travels through the hospital campus. Owen and Jillian felt inspired not only by their own journey with Harper, but by other St. Jude Heroes they saw who were running in honor of, or in memory of, other lives touched by childhood cancer.
Don’t even think about the running part. Don’t even think about not being able to complete it, because you will get there, and the aura that surrounds this race, and everybody who is making it what it is, will get you through whichever race you choose to do. It is just so rewarding.
Jillian has some encouragement of her own to share with those considering taking part: “Don’t even think about the running part. Don’t even think about not being able to complete it, because you will get there, and the aura that surrounds this race, and everybody who is making it what it is, will get you through whichever race you choose to do. It is just so rewarding.”
Today, 18-month-old Harper is an active and busy little girl. She's finished with treatment, and her scans show no sign of tumors.
Want to go the extra mile for patients like Harper? Sign up for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend as a St. Jude Hero.