On the morning of April 30, 2016 I'll be standing among 30,000 people in downtown Nashville, as we prepare to race various distances as part of the St. Jude Rock N' Roll Nashville Marathon and Half-Marathon. It's an incredible sight to see all of those people packing the streets of downtown Nashville, with seemingly no square foot of concrete left uncovered.
As I look around I will also see hundreds of runners wearing a "St Jude Hero" singlet just like mine and I'll know something that they won't know -- that the beautiful St. Jude Hero standing next to me is also a St. Jude patient, and she might not be there if it weren't for their support.
That beautiful Hero by my side will be my 11-year-old daughter Audrey. A little over four years ago she was diagnosed with an inflammatory miofibroblastic tumor (IMT) in her lung. In the early morning hours of her diagnosis I asked the nurse how big the tumor was, needing some perspective on her condition. The nurse responded that it was approximately 10 cm. Having forgotten my metric chart during those difficult hours I pressed her for a more relative comparison. She said that it was as big as a baseball.
My heart hit the floor. At the time Audrey was only six years old and weighed only 38 pounds. The thought of a tumor that large in her tiny little body sent a wave of panic and concern over our family, not knowing what the future might bring.
Fortunately, for children like Audrey, there is an incredible beacon of hope in the fight against pediatric cancer -- St. Jude's Children Research Hospital. Audrey was referred to St. Jude, where we quickly learned the depths to which this incredible hospital would go to ensure that she received the care she needed.
In the four and a half years since she has been a patient at St. Jude she has received world class care at no cost to our family. Her tumor has been eradicated through a series of surgeries and treatments that has left her completely healthy and able to lead the normal life of an 11 year old. In fact, her health is so good, that on April 30th she'll be with me, running in the 5K as part of the St. Jude Rock N' Roll Nashville Marathon and Half-Marathon.
The St. Jude Hero program allows runners from all over the country to raise funds as they compete in races like the ones in Nashville. For my family, it has proven to be an exciting and fun way to give back to the incredible hospital that has done so much for us.
For the last five years we have been joined by dozens of friends and family members and competed as "AC and the Tough Kids", in honor of my Audrey (AC) and her fellow St. Jude patients, the ones she affectionately refers to as "the tough kids."
As I write this we have raised nearly $290,000 for St. Jude over that time and are hoping to reach $325,000 by April 30th. Our community in Sevier County, Tennessee has rallied around us like I never could have imagined and has shared in our gratitude for all that St. Jude has done for us.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital subsists solely on donations through programs like the St. Jude Hero program. It is completely dependent upon its donors to be able to provide the care children like Audrey so desperately need.
As Audrey and I stand near the start line, I'll be thinking about those donors. I'll be thinking about my fellow St. Jude Heroes that have raised so much money and trained so hard. I'll be thinking about Audrey and how lucky we are to be there. Finally, I'll be thinking about the real St. Jude heroes -- the "tough kids" and the incredible hospital that cares for them.