Last year, Dan Davis of Wichita died of an aggressive brain tumor at age 59. Earlier this year, Army Spc. Hal Neukirch Jr. died in El Dorado of brain cancer after being diagnosed with a tumor while serving in Afghanistan. He was 39.
This Saturday, their loved ones will be among those participating in a new run that they hope will raise awareness of brain cancer while honoring their family members and the more than 200,000 people nationwide who have brain cancer.
“It helps you heal when you know it’s not just you dealing with it,” Davis’ widow, Deb, said. “You feel like you’re doing something good for something so awful.”
Deb Davis is one of a group of locals who instigated the Head for the Cure 5K in Wichita. After Davis’ husband died, she came into contact with the run’s chief executive, Matt Anthony, and has since become involved in the organization.
“After experiencing what I did, I felt like we needed it publicized more,” Davis said. “This organization is very genuine about its mission. I think they can do a lot to bring awareness.”
Head for the Cure was founded by Anthony nine years ago in Kansas City, after his brother died of brain cancer.
“There is an underfunding of this type of cancer from a research standpoint,” Anthony said. “While it is more common than we would like it to be, few people know the depths of the damage this cancer can do.”
Since its founding, the organization has provided $1.4 million in grants, including $100,000 to the KU Cancer Center in Wichita. Anthony said the run offers a place where people from all different backgrounds can come together for support.
“There are many of these stories where tragedy has a positive effect,” Anthony said. “We all have different stories but are connected by the experience.”
The honorary starters of the run will be Spc. Neukirch’s parents, Hal Sr. and Rita Neukirch. Spc. Neukirch was diagnosed with a tumor in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan. After a $15,000 fundraising effort to bring him home, he died March 22 at his parents’ house in El Dorado.
“It’s still a very emotional time for us, since we’re just three months out from his passing,” Hal Sr. said. “We’re happy to do whatever we can – anything to find a cure for this.”
The race will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday in Sedgwick County Park. To register, visit www.headforthecure.org. If you register before Friday, the cost is $29. On race day, it is $35.
Davis has been training for the race for a while. When she crosses the finish line, she said, it will be for Dan.
“I’m glad to be a part of it,” Davis said. “It just makes you feel like you’re not alone. It makes you feel everyone’s there with you.”