Phoenix girl to be honored at Run To Fight Children’s Cancer race

Students watch the HOPE – Honoring Our Peers Everyday – presentation at Ingleside Middle School in Phoenix. (Photo by Alexis Berdine/Cronkite News)

HOPE fans are set out on cafateria tables for students attending the assembly at Ingleside Middle School. (Photo by Alexis Berdine/Cronkite News)

The Fiesta Bowl mascot poses for a photo with the HOPE presentation at Ingleside Middle School in Phoenix. (Photo by Alexis Berdine/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – A Phoenix middle school student and cancer patient will be honored Saturday at the seventh annual Run To Fight Children’s Cancer. Emma Kerr, 12, who was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago, is returning to Ingleside Middle School after successful treatment.

Grand Canyon University, the Children’s Cancer Network and Phoenix Children’s Hospital collaborated on the race with the hopes of raising awareness and money for pediatric cancer. It will take place at Grand Canyon University’s west Phoenix campus and around 2,000 runners are expected to take part.

“It’s a big year for us, we’re going to surpass the half-million dollar mark of funds raised since that very first race and these funds have gone directly to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Children’s Cancer Network,” said Debbie Accomazzo, race director and the Honoring Our Peers Everyday (HOPE) program coordinator.

Last Friday morning, Emma’s classmates at Ingleside Middle School took the HOPE pledge to be a friend to those with cancer. Those close to Emma said they cannot believe that Emma will be returning to school again so soon.

“It’s going to be nice that she’s back with her friends, back with everybody that she knows and I just hope that everybody is going to be nice to her,” seventh-grader Paige Sturm said.

The Honoring Our Peers Everyday program, a part of the Children’s Cancer Network, visited a packed cafeteria for almost an hour to urge students to not be afraid of friends who may have cancer.

“When you think about the diagnosis of cancer, in Emma’s case she was 10 years old,” Accomazzo said. “Her support network is absolutely made up of her peers, so I think it’s really important to help acclimate everyone.”

Students watched a slideshow that explained the myths and facts about childhood cancer. They learned that the most important thing to recognize is that children who have cancer are still the same people who they were before they were diagnosed and that they still need friendship and interaction, even if it is as simple as a text message.

“I learned that just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you’re going to change so dramatically. Maybe there’s a physical appearance change but that doesn’t mean you’re going to change on the inside,” Paige, her classmate, said.

Emma’s mother, Ildi Kerr, said that after initially returning to school many of Emma’s classmates asked questions that she now finds “silly.” Students would ask Emma if she were contagious or if she were going to die just because she had cancer.

“These are her classmates and students that she has gone to school with since kindergarten, and it’s important for them to know the struggles that she’s had to deal with childhood cancer and the transition back,” Kerr said.

Emma was not at school for the HOPE assembly because she was in the hospital after having a reaction to her cast removal. Her mother said that she broke her leg as a side effect of chemotherapy, but that the injury is not serious. Emma finished her last treatment of chemotherapy and will be returning to school after spring break.

“She is definitely ready to be done with cancer. She has kicked it to the curb and she’s ready to go back to being a normal middle-schooler so we’re excited for that,” Kerr said.

This year’s race begins at 3300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix on Saturday and will feature a 10K run, 5K run or walk and quarter-mile Cancer Survivor’s Walk to honor children who have beaten cancer, are still fighting and who have passed away from the disease. Emma is schedule to help lead this year’s survivor’s walk.

Online registration is closed, but registration will be available on site the morning of the race. More information on the race can be found here.