Hundreds of walkers, joggers and runners awash in lavender costumes lapped around Tahoma High School and through Maple Valley to help fund cancer research at local hospitals on Saturday, July 20. Together the runners raised over $700,000 to support Valley Medical Center and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.
The “Be the Hope Walk” event was the first event of its kind in Maple Valley. Hosted by the nonprofit Valley Girls and Guys, the walk is an effort to support all types of cancer. The nonprofit was started by a Maple Valley resident who experienced many losses to cancer.
“In 2007 I lost a close friend to breast cancer” Founder of Valley Girls and Guys Tina McDonough said. “She was 38 and left behind a teenage daughter and husband. I started doing the (Susan G. Komen 3day fundraiser) and a team of four became a team of hundreds. And over the last 12 years we raised hundreds of dollars.”
In 2012 McDonough’s team started making “comfort blankets” to give to those battling cancer.
“They are personalized, so that made us realize we weren’t dealing with just breast cancer but all cancers,” McDonough said. “So in 2014 we became a nonprofit 501-C3.”
Valley Girls and Guys opened The Who House as a cancer resources center, has donated hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to Valley Medical Center and has also donated large sums of money to Seattle Children’s Hospital to fund clinical cancer research. The Who House provides blankets, resources, scholarships to high school seniors, provides mammograms to underinsured patients and also provides “’Who Dreams’ to those with a terminal diagnosis,” according to the nonprofit’s website.
“Be the Hope” walk uses lavender to represent all cancers. The event included an 18-mile walk, a 1.8-mile walk and a virtual walk so people could participate all over the world. McDonough made two large announcements at the event; Be the Hope Walk funds will give two large payments to Valley Medical Center and Valley Girls and Guys is funding another research project at Seattle Children’s Center.
McDonough was buzzing around all day at the inaugural “Be the Hope Walk”, but kept a smile on her face. The event was a large dream she had made a reality in honor of her friend.
“Michelle and I were friends, she was someone I knew and loved. She was the first person in my life to ever have cancer,” McDonough said. “I just always thought she would make it. But when it came back and was metastasized, we knew what the end was going to be. At the end it became a way to honor her. I walked for her in September (2007) and four months later she passed. It’s the grand reality of what cancer can do to people. So I can’t think of a better to honor her.”
Since Michelle’s death, McDonough has lost 25 other friends to cancer. Its a hazard of the work she does with Valley Girls and Guys.
“Doing this every year, all year long, it’s a part of it,” she said. “It never gets easier. It doesn’t. No story is the same and everyone is different. People need people. The letters I get from people who receive these blankets … they know this army of people is fighting for them. We’ve had six people pass away with the blankets on them. Our youngest (recipient) was two and our oldest is still 92 years old. Today and everyday is about building community and sharing hope.”
The event included live music, a beer and wine garden, food and cancer information for those who finished walking during the allotted time. For volunteers at the event, the lavender costumes and decorations held special meaning for them.
Volunteer Monica Worthington lost her mother, Nancy Papke, seven years ago to cancer.
“She was a three-time breast cancer survivor,” Worthington said. “She died from metastasized lung cancer. Growing up she was always very involved with Relay for Life and other fundraising. After she passed away I took a break from that for a while. But when we moved to the Covington, Maple Valley area someone recommended Valley Girls and Guys, cause I was missing this type of community. It’s like a family. Tina and I instantly clicked.”
Worthington said her mother was “an amazing woman” who mothered everyone around her. She worked retail as a human resources manager, and all of her employees treated her like family.
“She was a passionated and caring person, she was always positive. It wasn’t until a week before she passed away I ever really heard her give up on something. She was a fighter,” Worthington said, wiping some small tears away.
McDonough and her team saw success when more and more walkers came to the registration booth to sign-up last minute for the event. McDonough hopes the walk will be a way to spread word about Valley Girls and Guys and the work the nonprofit does.
The event gained many supporters thanks to the sunny weather granted to Maple Valley on Saturday. Worthington says she believes the sun was a gift from her mom.
“She grew up in southern California and loved the sun,” Worthington said. “So she told me when the sun is out that it is from her.”
Learn more about Valley Girls and Guys:
In January 2018, the local nonprofit targeted $100,000 donation to Seattle Children’s Hospital so 10 children could be the first ever recipients of a “solid tumor immunotherapy clinical trial,” according to the nonprofit’s website.
The nonprofit also committed $500,000 over the next five years to Valley Medical Center / University of Washington Medical Center in Renton. The funds were used to purchase state-of-the-art technology at the cancer clinic. To learn more and donate to the nonprofit, visit valleygirlsandguys.org.