The CureSearch Walk was lovely. Thank you so much to those of you who came or who donated money to our team. Northeast Ohio raised more than $47,000 for the important research of the Children’s Oncology Group.

Last year, because the weather was so awful, people registered quickly, walked with their heads down against the wind and took off before the rain came.  This year, on a gorgeous sunny morning, we had the opportunity to actually have a ceremony and what an emotional ceremony it was.

The event opened up with Steve Crowley, father of Olivia and co-chair of the Cleveland walk, saying these words into the microphone, “There are two things no parent ever wants to hear: Your child has cancer. And I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else we can do.” Well, the crowd of gathered families got quiet pretty quickly with that one. I’ve heard that first statement (three times too many) and hope to never ever hear the second.

He was followed by our own Dr. Auletta, proudly representing Rainbow, and then oncologists from both the Clinic and Akron Children’s, all repeating the same message: pediatric cancer affects too many children and families, is the number one cause of death by disease for young people, and is pathetically underfunded.

Then there was the balloon release. So we’re all standing around on the grass in front of the stage at Wade Oval and you can see this woman up there with a huge handful of helium balloons and you’re sort of wondering who’s gonna get to hold them and what they’re for (and you know the kids were all wishing they were for them), and then the MC invites up the families who’ve lost a child to cancer. And they slowly start to trickle out of the crowd, one or two at first, parents and grandparents and little kids who’ve lost their brothers and sisters, some individually, some in groups. And suddenly there’s this big crowd up there, much bigger than it ever should be, and Sarah MacLachlan’s Blackbird is playing over the loud speaker and it was just devastating, crushing (play the song before reading on if you really want to experience this). Everyone was crying as all those families slowly let go of their balloons (how many times must they let go?) and up they floated, a crowd of dead children in the air above us, hovering for a moment and then taking off with the wind until they were nothing more than tiny white dots in the sky.

And then, while I was still wiping the mascara off my eyes, they invite the survivors up to the stage. So I popped my sunglasses on my face and carried Austin up with the others. A line of children, some young, some teenagers, many with hair just growing in, plus one grown man — a twenty-year survivor — standing up with his own healthy children,  received their survivor medals from Mayor Jackson, Austin hiding his head in my shoulder the whole time.

And then, the heavy moments behind us (in more ways than one), we walked, in front of the Art Museum and around the pond, now more interested in ducks and geese than chemo and doctors. Kids just being kids, running ahead, lagging behind, laughing and chasing each other. Families just being families, enjoying a beautiful summer day. Together. As it should be.