On March 27th, 2022, over ten thousand runners will participate in the Love Run Philadelphia Half Marathon and 7K race. Each of these runners is driven by his or her own motivating force. Some will run for the sake of fitness, others for the camaraderie of friends, and some to prove something to themselves. For runner, registered nurse, and beloved daughter Erin Fenerty, the Love Run is an opportunity to continue the legacy of her father to support cancer patients and their families through their darkest hours.
It seemed like a normal day of high school classes for Erin at Germantown Academy, the place her father was a beloved member of the faculty. Jim Fenerty, Erin’s dad, taught a few classes each year but was best known for his decades of coaching the basketball team and leading the athletic department. On this day, Erin sat in her father’s classroom for his Civil Liberties course when she noticed something wasn’t right. Jim’s entire right side of his body had suddenly gone numb.
After the school nurse determined Jim’s blood pressure was dangerously high, an ambulance was summoned and he found himself on the way to the hospital. A short while later, Jim was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer called polycythemia vera. Treatment began immediately and included anti-platelets and oral chemotherapy. While Jim was not one to complain, Erin suspects her dad suffered more from his disease than he led his family to believe.
Jim didn’t let his diagnosis slow him down or stand in his way in serving the community. An avid supporter of Coaches versus Cancer, he fundraised to provide as many resources as he could to those battling alongside him. On his free days, Jim offered himself to patients who lacked transportation to their appointments and treatments by driving them where they needed to go.
With so much passion, positivity, and dedication to the welfare of others, one may wonder how Jim was able to take care of his own care and treatments. Nothing mattered more to Jim than his family, and his youngest daughter was prepared to step in to ensure her father never fought alone. With her help, the struggle to find the right medication regimen, the frequent hospitalizations and blood tests, and the severe fatigue became more manageable. Erin Fenerty found herself shelving her new psychology degree in pursuit of a career as a nurse and now works at The Children’s of Philadelphia.
“I became a nurse, then became his advocate. I went with him to his appointments and helped with his meds,” Erin told me. She, along with the rest of her family, formed a rock-solid foundation that Jim could lean on anytime he needed the support.
Jim continued to teach and coach for 9 years after receiving his diagnosis, taking care of himself, going for daily walks, and going for blood work every three weeks. His quest to support fellow cancer patients also continued straight up until his last days. After spending a wonderful day with his family, Jim Fenerty went to sleep and never woke up.
“Grief is very hard,” Erin noted. “There are no words to capture the immense amount of emotions.” The Fenerty family and the community came out in force to celebrate the life of their beloved husband, father, grandfather, teacher, and coach. Although Jim's flame had been extinguished, his legacy to help cancer patients remained like a bed of glowing coals waiting to be fanned to life.
Erin Fenerty knew there was work to be done. Her father’s passing meant his shoulder was no longer there for his fellow cancer warriors to lean on. “I promised myself and my family I would continue my dad’s legacy and keep doing what he was doing.” With a burning drive to continue her father’s legacy, Erin sought out her longtime friend Meghan McVeigh. Meghan has worked closely with Legacy of Hope for several years now, has participated in both the Philly Runs Free and the PHL24 events, and is a sponsored athlete for the 2022 Love Run. Erin saw an opportunity through Legacy of Hope to run for a purpose.
Erin and Meghan, both driven by the loss of their fathers, combine their love for running with the incredible mission to provide emergency support for cancer patients and their families. Erin told me, “I love running, so I signed up for Love Run and realized I could make an impact. [Legacy of Hope’s] mission is unbelievable and correlates with how my dad wanted to live his life.”
Through the Philly Runs Free program, Erin was able to register for the Love Run and set up a fundraiser, the proceeds of which go directly to Legacy of Hope’s mission to ensure no family loses their home or goes without food because a loved one is fighting cancer and no promising cancer research goes unfunded. Her impact is already palpable with thousands of dollars being directly converted to groceries for financially-distressed cancer patients and offsetting laboratory costs for the most promising new treatments and cures.
Cancer is our common enemy. Whether it is a parent, a sibling, a close friend or colleague, we ALL know someone who is battling or has battled cancer. Erin reminds us, “Hold on to your support system. Support, wherever you get it, is what will get you through. Don’t be ashamed to lean on them if you need it. It’s what brought my dad and me closer together.” On March 27th, 2022, Erin and thousands of others will become that support system for Philadelphia’s cancer families.
It is our hope that you will join us at PhillyRunsFree.com so you, too, can make an impact. Any participant who raises $250 or more can run the Love Run for free! Visit our event page for more details.