A Walk To Remember

“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried – but you’ve actually been planted” -Christine Caine

Standing at the base of the Art Museum on a warm and rainy Saturday afternoon, I could not help but feel inspired while watching socially distanced patrons, repeatedly ascend and descend the iconic stairs with extreme focus and determination. I quickly became entranced by the soles of their shoes in endless motion, imagining the journeys traveled by the owners of each pair. A moment later, I spotted a single pair of shoes walking toward me in syncopation, stopping for a toe to toe introduction. “Hi, I’m Kristen” she said with smiling eyes and a purell prepared handshake. Kristen graciously invited me to walk alongside her while she shared with me what the journey has been like to walk in her shoes.

Currently a seventeen year survivor of advanced Ovarian Cancer, Kristen Varley recalls being diagnosed at the age of thirty-eight as a terrifying experience. “I was asymptomatic at the time of my diagnosis” she stated. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer remains without a standard testing practice to assist with early detection both then and now. As she thinks back to the time of her diagnosis Kristen states: “I remember trying wrap my head around the idea that all of a sudden I was now battling something that had invaded me, something intangible that I could not control however during the time of my diagnosis, my family was able to be present to support me, and I had many friends to surround me… the weight of that support was immeasurably important.” Shifting her focus to the present, Kristen shared that she often thinks about the added challenges that accompany each person navigating a cancer diagnosis in the age of Covid-19. “No one could have predicted the circumstances the world would be faced with during the current Pandemic, but cancer patients especially, face even bigger challenges as they navigate their cancer journey with the added omission of family support in real time,” says Kristen. The absence of allowable support from loved ones is being felt by cancer patients in many clinical settings, including but not limited to centers delivering chemotherapy infusions, radiation, hospital-based procedures and routine doctor visits. To increase the safety of oncology patients these necessary but often isolating precautions have been mandated due to the vulnerability of this population.

With her personal goals aligning strongly with the mission and vision of Legacy of Hope, Kristen is elated to be a sponsored athlete this year at the PHL24 hour stair climb event. She is committed to climbing the Art Museum stairs for 24 hours to raise much needed funds for the provision of emergency support to Philadelphia Cancer patients. Feeling fortunate to have had the consistent support of her family and friends at an arm’s length throughout her journey, Kristen empathetically acknowledges the weight of this absence for current cancer patients who may feel as though they are “battling their cancer alone”.

She stated: “Participating in the 24-hour stair climb allows me to remain active in the fight. I want to be here to fight for these individuals that are truly fighting for their lives today.” The ability to provide emergency support to Philadelphia cancer patients in need often re-illuminates hope, reduces anxieties and reignites the determination to carry on one step at a time.

Now having gained some insight into the depth of Kristen’s personal journey, I delicately asked if she had ever given thought to how she would want her own legacy to be defined. After a moment of deep thought and deep breaths she began her response. “I have actually thought a lot about this. I had a twelve year old daughter when I was diagnosed at thirty eight and the medical team informed me I had a 25% chance to live another five years. So I thought about the possibility of not seeing my daughter graduate from high school, or drive a car, and all the other milestones that I may not live to see. I continued to reflect on my life at that time and think to myself well, what do I want people to remember me for and I clearly remember thinking NOT CANCER! I did not want anyone to remember my journey with ovarian cancer as being the summation of my life. I did not want cancer to be my label. However, being someone capable of helping other people with a cancer diagnosis feel supported, empowered and infused with hope…now that is just so meaningful to me.”

Kristen goes on to say, “receiving my cancer diagnosis was a very surreal moment for me, I had always been a very private person prior this experience. My cancer journey has challenged me in ways I never would have imagined. I believe I was chosen for this disease because I now harbor a drive within me not only to serve as a public advocate, but also to help support other people with cancer from the time of diagnosis through survivorship as well. Even if I am only able to make a difference in one person’s life it will have all been worth it.”

Legacy of Hope really does amazing work to help lessen the burden for cancer patients says Kristen. Patients who may not know how they will continue to put food on the table or keep the lights on because they are forced to choose between managing medical bills and the expense of everyday living. Kristen wants Philadelphia cancer patients to know that she will be thinking of them with every step she takes during the PHL24 event. Her goal for the steps is to “stay in the fight and provide hope” to patients in need of such critical support. She encourages cancer patients to focus on the importance of mental health & well being equally as much as physical health throughout this process, and above all be kind to yourself. We are all human she says, we will all have days when we fall down…in those moments remember, tomorrow is a new day to start a new climb one step at a time.

Kristen remains a visible advocate for people experiencing a cancer diagnosis, ignited by her personal survivorship and an infinite internal passion to build a legacy inclusive of being a conduit of hope for every cancer patient she meets. As our walk to remember approached the final step that day, I realized what we can all learn from Kristen is “Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, its going on when you don’t have the strength.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

Please consider supporting Kristen’s efforts during the PHL24 event by clicking on the link here.

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Michele Redrow

Michele is a Director on the Legacy of Hope board and also serves on the Executive Committee.

Gina Mancuso

Gina’s experience as the very successful co-owner of CoreFitness, LLC coupled with her expertise in planning special events makes her the perfect Vice President for Legacy of Hope. With energy, passion, and drive that makes her seem superhuman, Gina’s connection to our mission is a personal one.

“Both my father and my dear childhood friend were diagnosed with cancer within 3 months of one another. They were surrounded and supported by friends and family throughout their battle and until their passing. No one should suffer through a diagnosis alone and, without Legacy of Hope, some people would do just that.”

greg garber

Greg Garber is the director of Oncology Support Services at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

dr. kevin kelly

Dr. Kevin Kelly leads Legacy of Hope’s Scientific Review Board to seek out and support the most promising cancer research in Philadelphia using a merit-based system.  He is Jefferson’s Director of Solid Tumor Oncology.

David April

David is the founder of the Fishtown Beer Runners, an organization with chapters all over the world based here in Philadelphia.

joseph ruggieri, jr

Education: Bachelor’s of Science from West Chester University in Management and Finance

Bio: As a member of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.’s upper management team, Joseph brings a wealth of knowledge regarding finances, management, team-building and planning to the Legacy of Hope board. Joseph linked up with Michael, our President, and Wells Fargo began supporting Legacy of Hope annually.

“My father passed away from what started as Colon Cancer in 2015. Cancer is horrible and if there is something I can do to help others impacted I would want to be a part of it.”

mary chicorelli

Professional:  Mary is a certified city planner for Philadelphia, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association as well as the Philadelphia Bar Association, and the Pro Bono Honor Roll First Judicial District of Philadelphia.

Bio: Mary’s insight into the legal world is invaluable to Legacy of Hope, both in keeping our daily operations moving fluidly as well as making connections for our patients and their families when needed.

“Michael reached out to me about 2 years ago through mutual friends. We worked together to help a woman with stage 4 cancer get her electricity turned back on after it was shut off during the winter. I’ve been 100% supportive of Mike’s vision since then.”

Kimberly S. Reed

An award winning international speaker, author, corporate trainer and diversity, equality and inclusion executive, nationally recognized thought leader, expert, strategist and advisor to some of the world’s most influential organizations in global professional services, health care, financial services, consumer products and pharmaceutical industries.

Kimberly is a seasoned leader in transforming organizations into high-performing enterprises and challenging leaders to live without limits, with more than 20 years of HR, talent acquisition, and diversity & inclusion experience; successfully turning around troubled diversity practices by designing, building, leading, and shaping high-performing cultures at global organizations with robust strategies, global employee development programs and enterprise-wide initiatives that have increased revenue growth and organizational brand eminence.

Dr. Claudia Capparelli, PhD

Affiliations: Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center

Education: PhD, University of Calabria, Cosenza, Italy – 2011

Focus & Impact:  Focus on the role of the SOX10 transcription factor with regard to tumor cell heterogeneity and plasticity across multiple genotypes in melanoma. Investigating how SOX10 plasticity/heterogeneity affects the response to MEKi and anti-ErbB3 combinations in WT BRAF melanoma patients. 

Publications: Publications Link

Honors & Awards:

  • Legacy of Hope Merit Award

  • Outrun the Sun Melanoma Research Scholar Award

  • Unical Fellowship Visiting Scholar

  • International Pigment Cell Conference Travel Award

  • Best Poster Presentation, Ninth Annual Jefferson Post-doctoral Research

  • INPDAP Fellowship for Student Merit 

  • University of Calabria Fellowships for Student Merit 

Bryan Lathrop

Bio Coming Soon

Maree Lavo

Bio Coming Soon

Carol Sollenberger

Bio Coming Soon

Rebecca Blinn

Bio Coming Soon

Nia Andrews

Bio Coming Soon

Dr. Qing Chen, M.D., Ph.D.

Affiliations: The Wistar Institute, The Chen Laboratory, University of Maryland

Education: PhD,Immunology, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, State University of New York at Buffalo (Dean’s Award for outstanding dissertation) – 2006

Focus & Impact:  Focus is on the molecular mechanisms of brain metastasis originating from primary tumors like breast cancer, and the interplay between cancer cells and the stromal cells that populate the brain microenvironment. 

Publications: Publications Link

Honors & Awards​:

  • Legacy of Hope Merit Award

  • Jayne Koskinas Ted Giovanis Foundation for Health and Policy Award

  • Susan G. Komen, CCR Basic/Translational and Clinical application

  • The V Foundation for Cancer Research Award

  • Dissertation Research Award, Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 

Michael Rowe

Awards:

Volatile Media Management’s Mover, Shaker, Changemaker Award – February 2017

Miles Mack Community Services & Leadership Honorable Mention – 2016 TJUH Emergency Department Technician of the Year, Physicians Choice Award – 2015

TJUH Emergency Department Technician of the Year, Physicians Choice Award – 2014

Bio:

With his free time so limited, Michael manages to fuse his work with his other passion: running. Whether it is with the Fishtown Beer Runners, our own Team Relentless Hope, or his closest friends, Michael can often be spotted on the streets of Philadelphia keeping himself fit and active.