All eyes on a cancer cure: Relay for Life nets $65,000

When Kimberly Brainard, then 4 years old, began complaining of nausea and headaches, her mother began to get nauseous, too.

A former brain tumor patient herself, Ilima Brainard recognized the symptoms.

Kimberly Brainard was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor common in children, four years ago.

"It was devastating," she said. "You want to trade places with your kid."

After years of heartache and treatment, the Federal Way family is beginning to feel some relief. Kimberly appears healthy and her scans are coming back fine. In one year, she will have reached a five-year milestone indicating her disease is in remission.

The Brainards were one of many families who attended the Relay for Life event at Federal Way Memorial Stadium over the weekend in hopes of raising awareness and money for cancer research.

The event in Federal Way raised more than $65,000. The American Cancer Society hosted 30 events this year in King and Snohomish counties, said Randy Dahl, American Cancer Society Puget Sound region vice president.

Combined, the events raised more than $3 million, Dahl said. This year, the money will go to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington and the Children's Hospital.

Dahl said he doesn't know when there will be a cure for cancer because there are hundreds of varieties.

Research is coming a long way, and cures or vaccines for various types are rapidly being discovered, he said. He cited a recently discovered vaccine for HPV, which causes cervical cancer. He also noted that colon cancer can now almost always be prevented with proper screening.

Until a cure is discovered, families like the Brainards depend on common treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Kimberly Brainard, now 8 years old and a third-grader at Silver Lake Elementary School, will never be quite the same after undergoing treatment for her brain tumor.

The radiation damaged her ears, and she now wears hearing aids. She will have to take a daily growth-hormone shot for the rest of her life. Most of Kimberly's hair has grown back since the chemotherapy, but she still has two bald spots the size of oranges on the back of her head. She has trouble in school.

"She's got a little bit of cognitive problems, not much," Ilima said. "She has a little trouble with the reading."

And Kimberly now has a deeper understanding of one thing that most 8-year-olds have never considered — her own mortality.

"We never lied to her. We told her how bad cancer is," Ilima said. "We told her that someday there will be a cure and nobody else will have to go through this."

Kimberly has loved friends at Mary Bridge Children's Hospital and has seen them die.

"It's very hard to explain to her why they died and she didn't," Ilima said.

And Kimberly has endured more suffering than most adults. There were times she was so weak, she couldn't walk. Her mom put her in a wagon and wheeled her around. She lost 12 pounds, which on her tiny frame was more than 25 percent of her body weight.

At the Relay for Life this weekend, Kimberly appeared cheerful and unfazed by her treacherous battle with cancer. She sold lemonade, played in the sand and climbed a rock wall. She demonstrated her newfound skill — stretching her tongue until it fit inside her nostril.

Although Kimberly appears to be recovering, Ilima constantly worries. Cancer patients could always have a recurrence, and they are more likely to suffer other types of cancer.

"Every time you go back in for a scan, you worry about a recurrence," she said. "I freak out on little moles I see on her, thinking 'Oh my God, she's got melanoma.'"

Cancer has touched the lives of the Brainards, who will forever deal with treatments and worries.

But they are the lucky ones.

Across the track at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, another family gathered with a more melancholy tale. Brandon Mannikko succumbed to cancer in June 1999. He was 4 years old.

At nightfall on Saturday, nearly 1,000 luminaries lined the track at Memorial Field, each commemorating a victim of cancer.

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

Relay for Life

Sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life began with the infamous "survivor lap." Survivors of cancer walked, rode in wheelchairs or cheered one another on at Federal Way Memorial Field.

More than 30 teams participated in the 20-hour walk, which began July 14 and ended at noon July 15. Each team had at least one representative on the track at all times.

To learn more about Relay for Life, call Dick Mayer at (253) 941-0561 or the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates