I'd never been to Memphis, Tennessee, before December 2011. The city is in my home state, but it is still a seven-hour drive from my East Tennessee home across the state to West Tennessee.
As my family got into the car that day, I knew it was going to be a long trip, watching as the mile-markers counted down from our home near Interstate 40 and Exit 407 until we got to Exit 1, Danny Thomas Boulevard.
Memphis is famous for a lot of things: barbecue, Elvis Presley and the blues. While I had hoped to visit Memphis one day to take in all the city has to offer, I instead found myself heading there for a reason I never anticipated. I was going to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital® after learning one of my children had cancer.
The days and weeks leading up to that first trip to Memphis were difficult. My oldest daughter Audrey was diagnosed with a rare tumor at 6 years old. Although the questions kept coming, answers were difficult to find. Ultimately, we were referred to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with the hope that they could help. We stopped everything we were doing, packed the car and headed to Memphis.
Honestly, I don't remember much about the trip. What I do remember, distinctly, is seeing the hospital emerge into view for the first time. I remember seeing the awesome campus spring up along I-40 and thinking to myself, "This is where we need to be."
That thought was reaffirmed with statements I heard at each of our scheduled appointments on our first day at the hospital:
Stop 1 - Business office: "Mr. and Mrs. Stanger, you will never get a bill from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital -- because all you should worry about is helping your child live."
Stop 2 - First meeting with our oncologist: "Mr. and Mrs. Stanger, I promise to treat your child as if she were my own."
As if those two statements were not enough, St. Jude is home to some of the finest doctors, researchers, and caregivers in the world. I cannot tell you what a relief it was as a parent to know my child would be cared for at a place where no expense is too great, and no amount of caring would be too much.
In the years that have passed, Audrey has been nursed back to full health through a series of surgeries and treatments. She has lived the life of a normal kid and has a full life ahead of her -- thanks to the care she received at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
For that reason, on April 30, Audrey and I will be running together in the 5K as part of the St. Jude Rock 'n' Roll Nashville Marathon. We are participating as part of the St. Jude Heroes program where friends and supporters of this great hospital can raise funds to help ensure its mission continues: Finding Cures. Saving Children®.
The common theme of the St. Jude Heroes program is "Run for a Reason."
Our reason is a simple one. Somewhere, right now, there is a family packing up the car to drive to St. Jude. Their world has been turned upside down and their child is hurting.
We want to do our part to make sure, that upon their arrival the message to that family is the same as it was for us at Stop 1 and Stop 2.