Notwithstanding politicians, ordinary people run for many reasons. Some are trying to lead a healthy life. Some use the time to clear their heads. Some are trying to lose excess pounds, especially after the holidays. But this weekend, Jennifer King will be running for much more.In July 2009, King’s son, Carson, was diagnosed with leukemia. King will be running the Walt Disney World Marathon to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an organization that collects funds for research and education on blood cancers, as well as patient support for those dealing with blood cancer.
Notwithstanding politicians, ordinary people run for many reasons. Some are trying to lead a healthy life. Some use the time to clear their heads. Some are trying to lose excess pounds, especially after the holidays. But this weekend, Jennifer King will be running for much more.
In July 2009, King’s son, Carson, was diagnosed with leukemia. King will be running the Walt Disney World Marathon to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an organization that collects funds for research and education on blood cancers, as well as patient support for those dealing with blood cancer.
According to King, the organization has done a lot for her family as they’ve dealt with Carson’s illness.
“When he was first diagnosed, the doctor said ‘I don’t want you to go all through the Internet researching,’ so he suggested the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society website, and the Children’s Oncology Group website.”
The Society website provided King with information about the disease her son was facing, but also offered information for the then 4-year-old Carson in a way he could understand.
“They provided books that were age-appropriate for Carson to look at so he would sort of know what was coming up for him,” King said.
She added that the group offers funding to families dealing with blood cancers, and that “they mainly, of course, are very big on the research side.”
It has been nearly a year and a half since the diagnosis, and Carson, now 5, has completed what is considered the most intensive part of his treatment. As part of what is called the heavy treatment, for nine months Carson was treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
“We were in the hospital for various different chemos, oral and I.V.,” King said. “We had to do four treatments in the hospital that were about a week long, and by the end of all the different chemos, he had cranial radiation eight times.”
The nine months that Carson was undergoing heavy treatment were trying times for the King family.
“It totally turns your world upside down, to say the least, because we basically went into a crisis mode for nine months,” King said. “We had extended family come for extended visits for that whole nine months. He would either be in the hospital, or out, or he would be extremely prone to infection, so he had to stay home.”
King says that Carson has weathered the disease and the hectic treatment schedule well.
“Throughout the whole thing, he has been amazing,” King said. “He was always really easygoing before the treatment, and he pretty much stayed that way. There were times he didn’t feel good, but if he felt good, he was up playing, and still just being a normal 4-year-old.”
And even in the hospital facing the threatening disease, Carson tried to live the life of any child his age.
“Back when he was in the hospital, he had his little friends, and he would ride his big wheel around the ward over and over again. He’d get his friends to do the same,” King said. “Parents were running behind them trying to keep up because they were going so fast. So even though they had all of that stuff going on, they would just laugh and play and be kids. It was a really good example for us that even though you’re in a bad situation, you can still find joy and find ways to have a good time.”
The King family – Carson, Jennifer, her husband, Paul, and their daughter, Francesca, 13 – were supported by family and friends in their time of need.
“In the first nine months, we were in the hospital seven times, so it really took a lot of people to help us get through it,” King said. “Even if you are out of the hospital, you would be in the clinic, so we would be there every day of the week, at least half the day. There were seven visits to the hospital, but also 70 visits to the clinic as well for various checks and treatment, and that’s just when everything goes normally. He was sick, so we were in the hospital an extra 10 days for that as well.”
During this time, members of their church, Columbia Baptist in Falls Church, brought meals to the family, and neighbors would provide transportation to make sure that Francesca made it to her Curl-Burke Swim Team practices.
The heavy treatment ended in March. Now, Carson is in the maintenance portion of his three-and-a-half-year treatment cycle. He is treated with a daily oral chemo, a weekly oral chemo, and a once-a month I.V. Once every three months, he is given a spinal tap when chemo is delivered into his spine.
“He’ll be in first grade by the time he finishes this treatment,” King said. “He has a port right now so that they can give him his I.V., and they’ll remove that port, and he’ll be subject to different checks over the rest of his life, but he won’t be receiving any more chemo.”
While the toughest parts of the treatment are over, the support the community showed during Carson’s heavy treatment has continued to show itself as King prepares for her marathon run.
She and four friends signed up to run the race and collect funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society with the help of Team in Training, a training program that helps runners who are completing marathons and triathlons for charity.
“With Team in Training, they provide you with the training,” King said. “They have coaches and mentors that provide you a training plan to get you ready for the race.”
Runners first raise the funds necessary to cover airfare and board. Mentors are provided by Team in Training to help runners come up with ideas for raising funds. King is a fundraising veteran, though. She raised funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Walk to Cure Diabetes, as Francesca is a Type I diabetic.
“A lot of people say ‘Oh I could never raise that amount of money,’ but if you have trouble, mentors are there to help you out and make sure you can race,” King said.
The five runners have had no problems raising funds.
“The minimum for the marathon was $3,400,” King said. “Our initial goal was to raise $4,000, and people have been extremely generous in the support they have given us.”
King has collected close to $8,000, and her friends have raised between $3,500 and $6,000.
“They have been a help to us through Carson’s treatment,” King said of her four running mates – Kathy O’Donnell, Marina El-Ghoul, Andy Shepard, Jennifer Gallagher. “I knew I wanted to run and raise money, so I started talking to them about it, and it made it more special that they wanted to run in his honor and raise money as well.”
O’Donnell, a family friend from the time they both lived in Florida, and El-Ghoul, Shepard and Gallagher, friends who work out at Vantage Fitness in Falls Church with King, entered the training program with King at the end of the summer.
The runners meet up with different groups throughout the Washington, D.C.-area that are training to compete in marathons for charity. They go for long runs, sometimes 20 miles, on weekends with trainers, and are given smaller running assignments to complete during the week.
Though she won’t be running the marathon with her, King has found an “early morning training buddy” in neighbor Sue Earman.
“She gets up and runs with me, and does some of the long runs with me, just so that I have someone to talk to,” King said. “It’s really taken everybody. I’m doing the running, but it’s really taken everybody to get me there to the point where I can do it.”
Though the group will be short one member, due to a foot fracture, for the full 26.2-mile marathon this Sunday, King says that she and remaining running mates are up to the challenge.
“We’ve been training a lot and running a lot, and I think we’re all ready. We may not be as prepared as we’d like due to injuries and illnesses, but we’re ready to do it,” King said. “I was talking to Kathy yesterday. She has a horrible chest cold, and she said ‘I’ll just run it, because what’s one day of being uncomfortable, when cancer patients have to go through so much more.’ If we keep that perspective, we should be able to finish the race easily.”
The King family will be there to support Jennifer during the marathon, and are looking forward to the trip as a family vacation.
“We lived in Miami for a number of years, and we’ve always liked Disney World. Our little boy enjoys it a lot and he hasn’t been there in a while,” King said. “It will be one of our first family vacations to take since he’s been off of his heavy treatment, so we wanted to go to the happiest place on earth.”
For more on the King family and Jennifer King’s marathon preparations, visit kingfamilychaos.blogspot.com.