Seattle Brain Cancer Walk cofounder Kim Hogle wanted the money to stay in Seattle. The Monroe resident felt the thousands of patients who live in the region could use the dollars raised through an annual community event. Perhaps more importantly, they needed the aid of a broader support network.
In 2007, she knew four of those people personally. The then 24-year-old financial representative at Northwestern Mutual settled on a benefit that could help both her friend’s father, who had a mobility-hindering tumor on the right side of his brain, and her colleague, Ruth Ross, who was living with a speech-impeding tumor on the left side.
This is why the route is taken at walking pace, and not a run.
“I really just wanted an event in our community people with brain cancer could come to,” Hogle said. “With brain cancer, you feel so alone because it doesn’t seem like a ton of people have it.”
The following year, the first 500 participants came out to complete the circuit at the Mercer Island High School track. Roughly $120,000 of the $200,000 goal was met. The money went to the event’s sole beneficiary — the Ben & Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at Swedish Medical Center.
The Ivy Center is a preeminent Center of Excellence, and provides therapy, integrated patient support, clinical trials and treatments, and has an internationally recognized research facility.
To date, the Ivy Center has received $4.6 million from funds made through the walk. The 10th anniversary event at the Seattle Center on Sunday, May 7, will include about 3,000 participants.
Brain tumors are abnormal growths in the tissues of the brain, which, along with the spinal cord, is part of the central nervous system, according to the National Cancer Institute. The tumors can be cancerous, which account for about 33 percent of all brain and CNS tumors, or noncancerous. Both require treatment. They can spread from the spinal cord, or start in the brain.
The five-year survival rate decreases as age increases, according to the Central Brain Tumor Registry for the United States. Patients ages 1-19 have a nearly 74 percent chance of living another five years after diagnosis. Patients 20-44 years of age have a 61.5 percent chance and 55- to 64-year-olds have a 18.5 percent chance. Anyone older than 75 has about a 6 percent chance.
Hogle said the event would have never made it off the ground without cofounder Dr. Greg Foltz.
“He was doing all this research and all these trials,” Hogle said. “He had so much hope he was going to cure brain cancer, so I wanted it (the money) to go to him and wherever he was doing his research.”
During initial planning that first year, Hogle contacted the former director of the Ivy Center, and he replied immediately with interest. She said those early days were full of many rejected cold calls.
“I had so many people just tell me I couldn’t do it, and trying to find a location was hard,” she said. “People said I had to get police to shut down streets. I look back and think; probably I would have been one of those people telling me ‘no.’ I don’t know how I did that. Just the time, and just everything it took to do that.”
The disease is very trying for the entire family, Hogle said. Often the tumor can disrupt mobility, cognitive abilities, and cause erratic emotions in some cases, she said.
“The family is immediately in caretaker mode, which is so hard,” she said.
Megan and her mother Jenny Lisk attended the walk for the first time in 2016, following the death of husband and father, Dennis Lisk. Dennis had glioblastoma brain cancer. He died that January, eight months after receiving a diagnosis, Jenny Lisk said.
“It was very rapid. I had noticed some symptoms. He was taken for an MRI, and had surgery. He was really never the same after that,” she said. “It affected him cognitively from the beginning. There were complications from the surgeries and infections. He never had a period where he was sick but things were relatively normal.”
Megan has harnessed her creativity this year to assist her family’s team, “D’s Dawgs.” She designs and sell cards, and so far has made and donated $500 in sales. She also wrote to former Vice President Joe Biden, who has been advocating for a cure since his son, Beau Biden, was diagnosed with brain cancer; he died in 2015. Megan invited Biden to attend the walk this year.
“She’s been very passionate about wanting to end brain cancer, and wanting to raise money to help with that,” Jenny Lisk said. “Having the walk kind of focuses and helps her process her grief; to have that vehicle, to feel like she is helping to give back.”
Hogle said the walk is also meant for the families. Every year the route includes a medley of entertainment that sometimes includes jugglers and singers, team photo opportunities, live music and free food, she said.
Swedish took over organization of the event in 2009, but Hogle has helped out every year other than the 2016 walk. A committee of community volunteers, which includes friends, family members, survivors and brain cancer patients, has also formed each year to assist with coordinating, she said.
The team was shaken three years ago when Foltz died from pancreatic cancer.
“It’s a really sad story; he was trying to save all these people from brain cancer,” Hogle said. “He was around 50, and that was in 2013. He was fairly young. He had two young kids and a wife. He was incredible.”
Foltz did pick out a successor, Dr. Charles Cobbs, before he died.
“The funds from the Seattle brain cancer walk have allowed us to finance technicians and researchers in the laboratory and to buy reagents involved in experiments investigating several things,” Cobbs wrote in an email.
He wrote that those investigations are into the viral origin of glioblastoma, which killed Megan’s father. The center’s research is also investigating why tumor cells are sensitive to different drugs, and preliminary studies are being conducted on immunotherapy approaches. He wrote the walk is a way for patients and families to help support “the cause of brain cancer treatment and research.”
“It has been an avenue for these patients to feel validation in their disease and to promote a feeling of unity among those trying to discover a cure,” Cobbs wrote in an email. “Moreover, it has provided hope for these patients that new cures maybe within sight.”