A casual remark about running led to a movement that is making a difference for kids and their families dealing with pediatric cancer in Victoria.
Mena Westhaver, race director and founder of KidsRun Victoria, had just returned from a run to Vancouver General Hospital where her son, Jack, was undergoing treatment for cancer in 2008. A doctor asked if she was a runner and she said she might be interested in getting involved in an event which raised money for pediatric cancer care at the hospital. After taking part in the Child Run in Vancouver in 2009, Westhaver, a Strawberry Vale resident, decided to organize a similar event in Victoria in 2010.
This year marks the eighth annual KidsRun Victoria. Past events have raised a total of $114,000 for pediatric oncology services, with this year’s event aiming for $20,000. Half of the proceeds are earmarked for pediatric oncology services, with the rest going toward the Island Kids Cancer Association, which assists families on Vancouver Island dealing with cancer treatments for children.
The association provides financial assistance to deal with the unforeseen costs like loss of income, travel expenses and lodging when their kids have to go to Vancouver for treatment, said Westhaver, owner of the event’s host, Sole Sisters, a women’s walk and run program promoting fitness and health. Funding pediatric oncology services and helping families struggling with additional financial barriers makes for “the perfect split,” she added.
“There’s a lack of services and resources available in Victoria compared to Vancouver,” she explained. “We need to have something to fuel our own backyard. The KidsRun Victoria is 100 per cent volunteer driven and every penny goes to the charity.”
The proceeds from the first few years made up a major portion of funding for the pediatric isolation room at Victoria General Hospital, which opened in December 2012. The room provides protection from infection for children when their immune system is compromised. It also added additional clinical space to allow more children to receive chemotherapy treatments and supportive care closer to home, decreasing travel time for families.
“That’s very near and dear to me,” said Westhaven, who also works in health and promotion for Saanich Parks and Recreation and serves as a skating coach for the Victoria Grizzlies hockey team.
The family will enjoy a special personal celebration on June 29, which will mark the fifth anniversary of Jack’s last day of treatment.
“It’s a significant milestone for the family,” Westhaver noted. “With leukemia, you’re not declared cancer-free until five years have passed since the last treatment. It’s a date we’ve all been longing to reach for eight and a half years.”
This year’s KidsRun Victoria gets underway at Old Navy at the Tillicum Mall on Sunday, May 7 , with participants having the option of one- or five-kilometre walks or runs. The cost to register is $25 for adults, $20 for participants 16 and under, and $18 per person for families of five or more.
The event serves up a full day of family activities, including walking, running, nature trails, entertainment, fire trucks, mascots, an on-site barbecue by donation provided by Montana’s Cookhouse, and a silent auction.
If you’re not able to register online at solesistersvictoria.com before May 3, you can register in person the day before the event at the package pickup from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also register the day of the race at 9:30 a.m. Anyone who would like to participate but is unable to because of financial constraints can call Westhaver at 250-415-5983.