April 23, 2018

As the founder and editor of Utah Valley Magazine, Jeanette Bennett may know Utah Valley better than anyone else. And that’s only one of the reasons she loves the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer.

If you’ve lived in Utah Valley, you almost certainly know about and read Utah Valley Magazine, which Jeanette Bennett and her husband launched back in 2000, and describe as a publication “for people who love the valley.”

What you may not know, however, is that Jeanette and her small staff — in addition to Utah Valley Magazine, also publish Utah Valley Business Quarterly, and Utah Valley Bride magazines, along with the daily UtahValley360.com site and several custom publications.

And she’s a mom of four young children.

With everything on her plate, you could well wonder how Jeanette is able to find time to be a runner. But she does find time, and it’s important. In fact, she is able to find time to run the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer each year…during which she’s had some extraordinary moments that have to be heard to be believed. Listen to our conversation with Jeanette on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or right here:


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Early Days

Like many of us, Jeanette didn’t really see herself as an “athlete” — certainly not as a runner — when she was growing up. “I was interested in journalism; I wasn't really an athlete other than playing on my church teams and enjoying watching sports. It wasn't my passion and I didn't really even think I had the proficiency for it.”

So what changed? Jeanette says, “I graduated from college, got married, and had a family. I had my fourth child, I was thirty, and I just started feeling like — for physical and mental reasons — I needed to spend a little time outside, alone, and to get my body moving, get my blood pumping.”

And for Jeanette, that meant running, which brought some much-needed time to think. “I put on some shoes,” she says, “and I started walking — then running — always by myself. And at that time, I never listened to anything. I just wanted to hear the silence and hear my thoughts.”

“It was important,” she emphasizes. “It was valuable.” And perhaps critically, it was one thing she was doing just for herself. “I didn't even really tell friends or anything,” Jeanette says, “because I didn't want them to think I was thinking I was a ‘runner.’ I was just doing it for a mental benefits.”

Running For Grandma Lola

It wasn’t too long before Jeanette noticed the changes that a regular running schedule brings, and she signed up for a 5K. She ran the whole thing, felt great, and found herself hungry for more. She found herself running more 5Ks, the Ragnar Relay…and eventually, signing up for the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer — the 5K version at first, and then working her way up to the half marathon.

And when Jeanette picked up her race packet, she found herself facing a question. “There was a sticker that I could put on that said I could run for someone who had had cancer,” Jeanette says. “I hadn't really thought about that until I was sitting there, but my Grandma, Lola Dawn Reeve, she died of cancer when I was 10. That just seemed obvious and cool to be able to run with her name on my back.”

Jeanette continues, “I loved coming down the Canyon and doing the whole race and seeing all the supportive signs. I got choked up several times that morning, just thinking about the people who are running alongside me and the beautiful signs and stories posted along the way.”

And in the beautiful AF Canyon, supportive people and signs all around her, with her grandma’s name on her back, Jeanette had a remarkable experience. “I'm going to think about my grandma and everything I can remember about her,” Jeanette thought.

“I knew she was an English major, and I'm a journalism major,” Jeanette thought. “and she sang and played the piano; I play the piano and organ and I enjoy singing. I thought about her family and how she had started with four kids, two girls, two boys.”

“We’re a lot alike,” Jeanette thought.

As she continued to dwell on her grandma, Jeanette thought more about her grandma Lola’s children. “She had a large gap and a little girl, my favorite aunt Mary. I thought about that and my family. I had two girls, and two boys at the time.”

“Then I had this really cool experience,” Jeanette explains, “where I felt like she was with me and expressed that I would still have my ‘Mary,’ who was her youngest daughter.

“I thought about that the rest of the race,” continues Jeanette. “Okay. I have a little girl left.”

“And when I got home, my daughter said she had had a dream that morning that for either her birthday or Christmas, she had a gift of a baby sister. I asked her to tell me everything about the dream. And I ended up being due — with a baby girl — on that daughter's birthday the next year.”

“And I named that baby Lola,” concludes Jeanette, “after my grandma.”

A Utah Valley Race

Jeanette is the editor-in-chief of Utah Valley Magazine, and as part of her job, talks with people about their lives in Utah Valley all the time. As such, she has a great sense of how the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer fits into this community.

“There's so much heart. There's so much purpose,” Jeanette says, describing both the people of Utah Valley and the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “And this particular race has so much heart and just ties into what Utah Valley is all about. You learn a little bit more about cancer. You learned more about what people are dealing with. And it's inspiring.”

“Utah County people love to read a story about overcoming challenges, and that's what this race is so full of,” says Jeanette. “And, we're supporting a local cancer research and treatment facility.”

“That feels right,” Jeanette concludes. “That feels good.”

 

April 16, 2018

He’s a hospital administrator by day, an outdoor enthusiast in his free time. She’s incredibly detail-oriented and loves to run to clear her head. Together, they’re making a real difference in cancer patients’ lives.

Kevin Brooks had just finished doing an overnight relay race in Southern Utah with some friends. Exhausted and sleep-deprived, the conversation wandered over to the topic of downhill runs and the question of why nobody had put on a race down American Fork Canyon.

The question stuck with Kevin more than you’d think any idea born of a post-race rambling might. By the end of the next workday, the question had blossomed into an idea.

Listen to race organizers Kevin and Holly talk about the beginnings of the  AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, the people who participate, and what makes this race important on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or right here:


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Origin Story

Like many great ideas, in hindsight Kevin’s idea seems very simple. “It's got to be one of the most beautiful venues on the planet, and it certainly is a special place for me, my family, and the community. I left work and drove up to Tibble Fork Reservoir. It just reaffirmed, this road is awesome. Then I reset my odometer, drove down the canyon to the hospital…and it was 12.8 miles.”

“I have something here,” thought Kevin.

By itself, the American Fork Canyon run makes a fine route. But a combination of circumstances and work is what turned this idea into an event that is truly special.

“We had a close friend and colleague of ours who was diagnosed with breast cancer at about the time I was given the responsibility to oversee cancer services at the hospital,” says Kevin. “And it all came together.”

The AF Canyon Run Against Cancer was born.

Putting it All Together

Of course, having an idea for an event is one thing, but making it happen— and furthermore making it happen well— is the difference between fantasy and reality.

And that’s where race director Holly Hardy comes in.

“When I first started planning the race,” says Holly, “I thought, ‘It can't be that hard, you know: get some bibs, have a finish line.’ But there are so many details of everything you have to do, from the perfect medal for everybody, and making sure everyone has safety pins in their bag. There's a million details you have to think of.”

“Holly does such excellent work,” adds Kevin. “She goes above and beyond in making sure this is about cancer services. As you run down the canyon, you'll see these signs that are often quotes from our runners’ lives. We hear people say, ‘I was running out of the canyon and I got choked up.’ Well, people don't realize the amount of work that goes into those: sifting through thousands of quotes, getting those printed, and then putting them up in the canyon. It's a ton of work.”

Bigger & Better

Holly and Kevin focus on improving the race with each passing year. “The race has changed so much since the first year,” says Kevin. “The first year was Holly, Craig Nielsen, myself, and a couple friends. We had about 900 people come race, which was big for the first time.”

“But we didn't sleep for three days before the race,” says Kevin, “and we were just dead tired. I think we pulled it off fairly well, but this year we'll have over 4,200 participants across all the events."

“We have between 200 and 300 volunteers to help us now,” Kevin notes, “so we get a little more sleep.”

The People Who Matter

Kevin notes that the run makes a big difference in the lives of many people fighting cancer right now. “You hear stories of people who may even have insurance, but their deductibles or copays are out of reach or strains their budget when they're traveling from rural communities and they need money for gas or hotels. Many cancer patients lose their hair and they don't have money for wigs or scarves.”

“So in addition to providing a lot of cancer care,” says Kevin, “we provide a lot of those soft services as well. We give out a lot of gas cards. We pay for a lot of hotels and we do buy some minor equipment on occasion that really benefits our patients.”

For both Kevin and Holly, one of the most rewarding aspects of putting on the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer is seeing the people who are either runners or supporting the runners. “One of my best friends from high school passed away from cancer just a few weeks before the race,” says Holly. “Her family and friends all ran in honor of my friend. It’s so meaningful for me, because I'm thinking of her and how that translates into so many other people's lives.”

“People are shocked,” Kevin adds, “at the emotional impact of running and seeing families at the finish line. They hug and embrace, and they're all wearing the same tee shirts and they realize they participated in something that's really a step above your average race.” 

April 9, 2018

Amber’s a busy mom of three girls. She’s a wife, a competitive runner, and a blogger. And she’s in long-haul cancer treatment. There are no two ways about it: Amber is a true inspiration

Amber has always been an early-morning runner. Until recently, she’d get up and go running on the trails and paths in her Oregon town, while her husband would stay at home with the kids and run on the treadmill — his little early-morning gift to her.

Things have changed lately, though. “I don't have the energy to get up at five in the morning anymore,” says Amber. The cancer treatment and surgery take a lot of her energy these days. Still, Amber gets out and runs. “My three-year-old still loves to run with me. She will wake me up in the morning and tell me that it's time to take a run.”

“That is a big motivation,” Amber says, “but it's kind of a little bond between us too.”

Be sure to listen to our inspirational conversation with Amber on Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or listen to it right here:


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Diagnoses

It took Amber some time, frustration, and her own initiative to discover what was wrong. “I started feeling a little bit off at the beginning of the year,” she says. “I called my gynecologist and they said, ‘oh, it's no big deal. It's just because you had a baby, you're an old mother.’ But I continued to have a lot of pain in my abdomen and I self-diagnosed that I had fibroids, since I'd had them when I was pregnant.”

The pain kept getting worse, however, and Amber could even feel the tumor bump herself. “I ended up going in to a primary care physician. The doctor said, ‘you need to get into see your gynecologist.’ And I said, ‘”Well, I need a new gynecologist because mine won't get me in to see me.’”

Even feeling terrible and not knowing why, Amber ran the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “I did the half marathon that year, and I didn't feel well,” she says. “The whole time I remember thinking, ‘what is wrong with me?’”

“I remember thinking vividly,” Amber says, “‘Well, at least I don't have cancer. Look at all these people that are doing this, fighting for their lives. I can deal with little bit of abdominal pain.’”

Amber’s frustration in trying to find a doctor who would help continued. “While I was visiting Utah, I tried to get in to see a doctor there, and it didn't work,” she says. “Two weeks later, once I was back home in Oregon I finally found a doctor who would see me — and immediately they started blood work and ultrasounds and CT scans.”

Finally, Amber had a doctor who was ready and willing to help, but only to find some of the worst news possible.

“I was diagnosed in July with stage four colon cancer,” Amber says. “The tumor I had found by palpating my abdomen had attached to one of my ovaries. My colon was almost fully blocked with another tumor.

Treatment

Since diagnosis two years ago, Amber has been in near-continuous treatment, working to keep the cancer at bay. “I had emergency surgery two days [after diagnosis],” she says, “and they were able to remove about a foot and a half of my transverse colon and they were also able to remove the tumor and my ovary.”

That tumor, Amber says, was about six inches — “about the size of a toy football.”

And that was the beginning of Amber’s was the beginning of my journey. “About six weeks after that, I started the chemo regimen that I am still on. The cancer had moved to my lungs and my liver and kind of all throughout my abdomen.”

“While they were able to remove the primary tumor, there's no way that they can go get all the little pieces out of my body,” Amber says. “I was given 24 to 28 months with my original diagnosis based on the drugs that they have that they can use to keep me alive and keep the cancer at bay.”

“So that was kind of harsh,” Amber says, understatedly.

A Day in Amber's Life

Amber has three daughters — a twelve-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a three-year-old. Her older two kids are independent and like to get themselves ready for school in the morning, which gives Amber and her three-year-old an opportunity to get out on a run together. “She likes to get pushed in the stroller,” Amber says. “It's kind of a little bond between us.”

This fusion of priorities — taking care of herself while doing something with one of her girls — is just one example of how Amber manages her life right now. She needs to be efficient. Time and energy are at a premium for Amber; she’s managing stage four cancer.

“As we speak,” Amber says (we are talking just a few minutes after she’s put her girls to bed), “I am hooked up to a chemo pump. Every other week I go for a few hours to the treatment center. They draw my blood, I meet with my doctor, go over all the blood work and what's happening. And then I get hooked up to the drugs, and then they send me home with a pump that runs for 48 hours —I have a permanent port in my chest and tubing going to a little fanny pack for the next two days.”

“I'll feel yucky and down for about seven days and then I can regroup and have my life back for a week,” Amber says. “So it kind of goes week-on, week-off. That's the pattern we're in.”

New Victories

“I’m not training for a marathon ever again,” Amber says. Instead, she has what she calls “a new normal” and priorities that match what she can do. “Training for 5Ks are a big deal, and getting out to run for a few miles with my children or my daughter.”

“I've had to come to an understanding that this is kind of our life now,” Amber says, “and it took some pretty hefty adjustment. I had to stop running with the watch because I was really frustrated that I wasn't running a seven-minute mile or an eight-minute mile.”

The new victory? “I'm running,” Amber says, “or at least I moved my body today.”

Coming Back

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In many ways, the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer is significant to Amber. “It’s a very emotional thing for me, with the ties I have to running it while not knowing I even had cancer… then being diagnosed shortly after.”

“And then I ran it after hitting my year mark, and was celebrating being alive, I guess,” Amber says, “but also coming back home and being able to run with my friends and family and people who had known me pre-cancer.”

“It was a really empowering thing for me to feel like I had accomplished something very big — a 5K,” Amber says. “Which is weird, because in that in the past that would have not been a big deal at all.”

“But then I think,” says Amber, “I'd just finished sixteen rounds of chemo. It was such a beautiful thing for me to be able to do that and say, ‘No, cancer doesn't have a hold on me. I have a hold on cancer.”

“I continue to do this for my children and for my family,” concludes Amber. “Because that's what I do.”

Amber will be back, along with her family, for this year’s AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “It gives them a way to feel like that they are showing their support and giving themselves to something that matters to me,” she says. “I think that's a really beautiful thing.”

 

April 3, 2018

Wayne Sleight runs with his wife, family, and friends. He runs in honor of his father. And this year, he’s bringing his whole company along.

Wayne Sleight is the COO of AF Canyon Run Against Cancer sponsor 97th Floor, a full-service digital marketing agency, headquartered close to the mouth of American Fork Canyon. But he’s been doing this race long before his company came aboard, and has made a habit of bringing family and friends to this race — whether to run with them (like his wife), or to run against them (his best friend).

Regardless of who he brings along, in the end it’s for a great reason: Wayne hates cancer, and loves the healing process that the community around this run brings.

Listen to our conversation with Wayne on Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or listen to it right here:


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Lesson Learned

Wayne is a thin, fit guy. Someone who looks like he could run a half marathon without really even training for it. Which, years ago at the Provo Canyon Half Marathon, is exactly what he tried to do.

It did not go well for him.

“I didn't train for it,” Wayne confesses. “I didn't think thirteen miles was going to be that long, and it was. it was terrible. I was just inexperienced.”

Since then, Wayne’s upped his game considerably, and now he’s done several half marathons, and has even run the St. George Marathon. He’s learned his lesson and has advice for anyone thinking of doing the half marathon version of the AF Canyon Run against cancer. “Take it seriously,” Wayne says. “Don’t think that thirteen miles is just one mile, thirteen times. And be sure to get some of those runs in the morning, especially if you’re a night owl.”

Running with Family

One thing Wayne has been remarkable about is bringing his family and friends to the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. When thinking about the times he’s done this race, Wayne notes that 2017 was his favorite year, because he ran the whole thing with his wife.

“The year before I had my [personal record],” Wayne notes, “but 2017 was my favorite. I ran the whole time with my wife right next to me, all the way to the finish line.”

“She might have even finished a millisecond ahead of me,” says Wayne.

Wayne’s wife wasn’t the only family along for the run, however. “There were five or six of us — family members from Vegas and Southern California,” says Wayne.

Running for a Reason

As mentioned earlier, 97th floor sponsors the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. Wayne explains that it’s no accident his company chose to sponsor this race: Wayne lost his father to cancer, and it still hurts.

“The race is beautiful, but the cause is more important,” says Wayne. “But just as important is the healing process. Anyone that's been affected by cancer, if they lost someone — in my case, my dad — or just had to struggle through and see the pain.”

Wayne’s explains, “There's never a complete healing. You're going to go through your whole life, you know, constantly trying to get better. This is one of those times every year when I feel like I heal a little bit more.”

“At this run,” Wayne says, “I’m surrounded by a community where everyone else has been affected in similar ways to me. And that's a magical thing.”

Wayne concludes, “So yeah. I want to be a part of it for the rest of my life.”

 

March 26, 2018

Dr. Jennifer Tittensor works every day to help people with cancer. Then she runs for them, too.

Dr. Jennifer Tittensor is one of those people you don’t really want to ever meet — not in her work capacity, at least. She’s also one of those people who, once you get to know her, you’re incredibly glad you’ve met.

A general surgeon by training, Dr. Tittensor’s practice in the American Fork hospital has evolved to the point that she now takes care of people who need breast surgery, with her main focus being on breast cancer.

She’s also one of the amazing people you’ll see at the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, as she takes in the beauty of the canyon and appreciates the toughness of the people she’s helped overcome cancer.

Listen to our conversation with Dr. Tittensor on Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or listen to it right here:


Apple Podcasts | Google Play Music | RSS

Exhausting and Rewarding

Dr. Tittensor is acutely aware of how frightening the prospect of having surgery for breast cancer can be for a patient, and even experiences that emotional load herself. Even so, she emphasizes the positive. “There are days when it is emotionally exhausting,” she says, “but the vast majority of the time it is very rewarding.”

Her patients no doubt notice that Dr. Tittensor joins them on the journey they’re taking. “At the beginning, it's hard,” Dr. Tittensor says. “Patients are scared. They don't know what's coming. Sometimes I have to tell them that are going to do very difficult treatments or they need surgeries that are major adjustments in their life.”

“But at the end of it all,” says Dr. Tittensor, “most of the time patients are cured. You see that process of struggle and endurance and then being better at the end and it's wonderful to see people come back, feeling good, and they've moved on with their life.”

Summing up the experience, Dr. Tittensor says, “It’s an amazing job.”

Running the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer

Dr. Tittensor got started with running for a reason that will feel familiar to many runners: she had gained some weight, didn’t feel good, and wanted to get back on track.

“I used to be very active in aerobics and weightlifting and training…and over the years I had just fallen out of that,” she says. “I kind of found myself in a bit of a rut.”

So she tried something new. “I started running and found that to be enjoyable,” Dr. Tittensor says. “So I set a goal: I wanted to do [The AF Canyon Run Against Cancer].”

And of course, like most people, she was nervous at the starting line — both because of the race itself, and…for another reason. “I was asked to speak at the beginning, which made it a lot more nerve-wracking,” Dr. Tittensor says. “But I was able to talk about how I felt about cancer and what it meant to me.”

And then it was time for the run, where Dr. Tittensor had a surprising form of support along the way. “My husband was so excited that I was doing this run. He rode his bike to the top in the dark, then he rode down, took pictures of me along the way, and then ride a little further and take more pictures.”

“I have very good memories of that first time,” Dr. Tittensor says. “And the feeling of crossing that finish line and accomplishing that goal was huge for me.”

Her Reason for Running

While Dr. Tittensor’s running and racing experience will sound very familiar to a lot of runners, there is one component of her AF Canyon Run Against Cancer experience that is very uncommon — and very special.

“This is for my patients,” she says of her reason for running the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. “My patients do a lot of hard things. I can do something that hurts a little bit for them too.”

Dr. Tittensor is inspired by her patients. She says, “When I'm feeling really tired, I will sometimes reach back in my memory and think of somebody who was particularly hard for me to take care of or it was emotional for me. It helps you to keep going.”

There have even times when Dr. Tittensor has come across patients of hers who are actually doing the race. “I remember Amy Searcy has run it at least twice, she’s doing great; she’s an amazing woman,” Dr. Tittensor says. “I’ve also seen Denise Neish, who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2011. She’s continued to stay healthy and fight hard all this time, and I hope to see her again at the race this year.”

Getting Personal

While Dr. Tittensor is definitely inspired by her patients, sometimes the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer can be even more personal. “Back in 2015, one of my very good friends — a trauma surgeon in San Diego — was diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Dr. Tittensor. “We trained together. She has two kids. She's almost the same age as I am. It definitely hits home, and that year she was really on my mind a lot.”

The great news is, this story has a happy ending. “The next year after she'd done all of her treatments,” Dr. Tittensor says, “she and her family came out and ran the race with me.”

She sums up the experience of running the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer well: “It's very emotional,” she says. “If you think about it too much, you can find yourself crying down the canyon. I feel a lot of appreciation that I am in good health and that I'm able to enjoy that beautiful canyon and participate in something that helps people with cancer.”

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