Twenty people strong, Jayci’s family gets together at the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer to run and walk together while remembering and honoring Jayci.
It’s a story no family wants to tell. No family wants to find whether they have the resilience and strength to catalyze loss into legacy.
But that’s the challenge Jayci’s family has, and together — with their extended family — they gather each year at the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. There, they run together and walk together, talk and listen together, and remember Jayci.
It’s not exactly right to say that Jayci was a “normal” girl. “She was an extremely remarkable child,” says her mom, Heather. “My husband and I felt very fortunate her whole life, just to be her parents. When she got sick, it was no different. She taught us so many things through her battle. She was going to smile always, no matter what was happening.”
Jayci was just twelve years old when she began showing symptoms — “of things not being right in her body,” as her mom says. In March of 2013 Jayci was diagnosed with cancer at Primary Children’s Hospital.
“We had a whirlwind year while she battled cancer,” Heather says. “We spent more nights inpatient in the hospital than we did out that year and fought with everything we had.”
After fighting hard for almost a year, Jayci passed away, just a couple weeks after her thirteenth birthday.
A Race Like Jacyi
Only a couple months after Jayci passed away, Heather joined a group of friends to go to American Fork and run the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer. Heather’s friends were there to run the half marathon in honor of her daughter; Heather did the 5K, saying “I was not a runner like they were.”
And that’s how Heather found something special about this event. “I found that the race itself just embodied those very things that Jayci had taught me,” she says. “Everyone's smiling, and moving forward, and tackling what's right in front of them, and helping and encouraging each other.”
“I love the whole feeling of it,” Heather says.
Every year since then, more and more family has come, with twenty or more coming last year: Jayci’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And of course, above all else, her parents and sisters. Some family members run it very fast; some take their time and walk it slow.
Regardless of what speed they go, says Heather, “It's something in our family that is just about Jayci. Of course we feel her with us at Christmas and Easter and family reunions and all the different times of year. But this specific weekend in American Fork is purely honoring herand what she taught us through her fight.”
“It's just a good chance for us to all get together and remember her,” says her dad, Coby, “and also support those that are going through it right now. Maybe we can offer some sort of help to those that are dealing with it at this time.”
During the Race
At the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, little things are important. Coby recalls, “I remember there being a poster up along the race, saying ‘My sister is my guardian angel; I love her and miss her,’ written by her sister Halle. We saved that and brought it home.”
Halle, Jayci’s youngest sister, will be eleven at this year’s AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, and will be her third time entering. Which means she has been running this race since before she can really remember, and plans to keep doing it every year. She loves seeing everyone, the matching shirts that say “Fight Like Jayci” they all wear together.
Jayci’s 14-year-old sister Halle, says she doesn’t really like running, but she loves doing this race every year. “I always look forward to having all of my family up there together because a lot of them I never see, or I don't get to see very often,” says Halle. “And so we all really come together and do this as a family.”
The race is a good time to walk and talk about their favorite memories of Jayci, says Halle. “I was with my older cousin, and we have all these memories with [Jayci]. We share memories and we were just laughing at all the funny memories,” she recalls.
“And,” she says, “I like the French toast at the end.”
“Jayci taught us so many things through her battle,” says Heather, Jayci’s mom. “We learned that she was going to take on whatever was right in front of her, and she was going to take it on with a smile and accept the challenge and go for it.”
Which is exactly what Jayci’s family is doing now.