As a professional disc jockey in Peoria, Ill., Anna Kinkade’s voice is her livelihood. On-air, she depends on it to be clear, authoritative and commanding, whether she’s introducing the next song, a station promo or the daily weather. But as she talks about a friend’s struggle with cancer, her voice cracks with emotion. The friend was a 6-year-old St. Jude patient who ultimately lost her fight, but whose memory continues to push Kinkade to do something again and again, something she never thought she’d do in the first place — run as a St. Jude Hero.®
“I saw a friend post on Facebook congratulating their team on a job well done,” she said, “and I commented, ‘I want to do this. How do I do it, how do I become a St. Jude runner?’”
The next year, 2011, she participated in the St. Jude Chicago to Peoria satellite run with a team made up of Peoria police officers and raised $1,800 in support of St. Jude. The run is one of 38 satellite runs that coincide with the annual Memphis to Peoria Run in support of St. Jude.
The second year was more challenging for Kinkade. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and told she couldn’t run for St. Jude. “I did it anyway,” said the 39-year-old who is cancer free today. And she raised $8,000 doing it.
Her own cancer treatment was eye-opening and reinforced her commitment to help St. Jude. “My biggest worry going through my own cancer diagnosis was fighting with my insurance company and how I was going to pay for this,” she said. “It took me two years to pay off my surgery, but people who go to St. Jude don’t even see a bill.”
It was on her second visit to St. Jude in 2014 as part of a St. Jude Dream Home® Giveaway radio campaign that she met her special 6-year-old friend. She and her family lived near Kinkade’s hometown and the girl’s mother recognized her from listening to Kinkade on the radio. “Everything I do from now on is for her,” she said. “This is my motivation, this is my push.” In memory of that patient, Kinkade raised $12,000 that year in the Chicago-to-Peoria run.
In April, Kinkade ran the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Half-Marathon — her first — and the memories of her visits to St. Jude, of the patients and of her own battle with cancer carried her through that hot and humid day.
Over her six years as a St. Jude Hero, Kinkade says she’s raised about $50,000 for St. Jude, and she doesn’t plan on slowing down. She’ll don the St. Jude Hero running bib again for the upcoming Chicago to Peoria run, and then again in December for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, when she hopes to make a return trip to the hospital.
“People think it’s sad, but I tell them the hospital in Memphis is the most magical place on Earth,” she said. “It’s just the most inspirational, hopeful, positive and wonderful place.”