Ten years ago, Matt Anthony turned his dying brother’s dream into reality.
Today, it has evolved into not only a symbol of hope for thousands of people but also a life-changing passion for Anthony, who carries on the optimism his kid brother, Chris, left behind.
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The dream come true is the Head for the Cure 5K run, which celebrates its 10th anniversary at 8 a.m. today in Corporate Woods in Overland Park.
Hundreds of teams currently participate in Head for the Cure 5K in five cities around the nation, including Lawrence and Columbia. Five more cities are expected to join the effort next year.
By the end of 2012, Anthony expects that $2 million will have been raised for brain cancer research.
Proceeds from the Kansas City race benefit the Brain Tumors Trial Collaborative, a network of medical centers investigating new treatments for malignant brain tumors. Funds also support the Solace House and the University of Kansas neuro-oncology unit.
“We’re energized and having extraordinary momentum,” said Anthony, who is the founder and president of the Head for the Cure Foundation. “Someday we’ll find that cure.”
Anthony, who is also the global chairman of VML, said his brother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2000 but never let go of his positive spirit.
“The way he lived his life while battling that disease was extraordinary,” he said. “He worked hard, raised his family, exercised and held on to his faith.”
Before Chris died, he suggested there should be a run to raise money for brain cancer research and awareness. Anthony thought it was a terrific idea and immediately got to work.
“While thousands are affected, brain cancer still doesn’t have the same kind of funding as breast cancer or lung cancer,” he said. “Grassroots efforts are extremely important.”
At the first race, 300 people showed up and $15,000 was raised. Anthony was floored. With a little hard work and help from his friends, the race grew. Last year, more than 5,000 people participated.
Unfortunately, one of his friends, Harry Campbell, was touched too closely by the truth that brain cancer can affect anyone.
Six months after participating in the first Head for the Cure race, his wife, Kris, was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor.
The Overland Park couple were devastated, but they remain strong.
Earlier this year, Campbell, a successful businessman, wrote a book, “Get-Real Leadership,” which chronicles lessons he has learned in his career. All the proceeds from his book and his speaking engagements go to the Head for the Cure Foundation, which was established five years ago.
His wife, who underwent radiation to shrink the tumor, couldn’t be more proud of him. And she looks forward to the race every year.
“It’s a joyful event. It’s a celebration,” she said. “When we’re there, it feels like we’re making an impact. I’m always astonished by the support.”
Like the Campbells, more than 70 percent of participants in the Head for the Cure 5K are from Johnson County.
Andria Kempf of Overland Park and her family started participating in the Head for the Cure 5K a couple of years ago after her 8-year-old son, Mason, was diagnosed with a rare malignant brain tumor.
The first year they participated, Mason was so excited he completed the entire 5K. He couldn’t stop grinning, she remembered.
“It was very heartwarming and sad, because we already knew the outcome,” said Andria Kempf. “It was a time for us to just make memories.”
The next year, after Mason had passed away, she was stunned by the outpouring of warmth that greeted her at the next Head for the Cure 5K.
“The love from complete strangers was overwhelming,” she said. “You don’t realize until you’re affected how the community comes together during hard times.”
In honor of Mason, more than 100 of his friends, family members and supporters released green balloons into the sky before the race.
Kempf said her team plans to do the same thing this year.
Stories like those of the Campbells and the Kempfs are one of the biggest reasons all the hard work on the Head for the Cure Foundation and the races is worth it, Anthony said.
“I’m thrilled, because I know Chris would have been so happy,” Anthony said. “We’re helping a lot of people. And by doing so, I feel like my brother is always at my side.”