For the past 10 years during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, racers don their superhero masks, capes and costumes to run in a half-marathon, 5k or kids’ run to raise funds and awareness for children’s cancer.
When Keith Burnett was going through cancer treatment for his medulloblastoma as a toddler at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, he didn’t worry much about what he couldn’t do.
Though he was sick and couldn’t walk, his focus was on what he could do, how he was able to still play Hulk Hands with his twin brother or save a prize from the hospital to share with his siblings.
“Everybody felt like they were his favorite,” said his mom, Darcee Burnett. “That’s just a special thing that he had — to make everybody feel like they were important.”
After receiving treatment at Doernbecher and fighting the cancerous brain tumor for 19 months, Keith passed away in September 2012. The Burnett family was left with a crater of grief.
“It was like I didn’t even know what to do with myself.” Burnett said. “I got out of bed because I had a wonderful husband and two other small children who I knew needed me, and that was it.”
After nearly two years of around-the-clock care for her son, Burnett was suddenly faced with the immobilizing effects of loss and a void in her day-to-day, previously filled with caring for her son.
“I needed to put this time and energy into something that’s meaningful because I can’t care for my son anymore,” she said.
That was when the Hero-Up for Children’s Cancer Race was born. Now in its 11th year, Hero-Up combines Keith’s love of superheroes and Burnett’s passion for running into a 5k and kids’ fun run that brings hundreds of runners and superheroes alike to the starting line.
“It’s not necessarily emotionally painful. It still sometimes is, but not usually. I attribute that to Hero-Up and channeling that heartache into something meaningful.”Darcee Burnett
Hero-Up raises money to fund research to improve care and outcomes for kids with brain cancer
s. Since the first race, Hero-Up has raised over $230,000 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Bank at Doernbecher.
“Everything’s going to go to research because we need to stop the bleeding where it starts,” Burnett said. “I love all the wonderful, supportive things that are offered to these families for support, but if we could just have better treatment options, that would help the most.”
The repository houses tumor samples used for study to develop more effective therapies for children with brain tumors and is available to the research community at large through the Children’s Brain Tumor Network. Burnett and her husband prioritized funding research because of their first-hand experience with the type of treatment kids receive.
“It was just horrible, and we could see so many families this was affecting,” she said. “It was really hard on so many levels, obviously, personally and just looking around, thinking, I feel like we’re in a war zone.”
“I think about Keith every day.” Burnett said. “It’s not necessarily emotionally painful. It still sometimes is, but not usually. I attribute that to Hero-Up and channeling that heartache into something meaningful.”
This year’s Hero-Up for Children’s Cancer Race will take place Sept. 2, 2023. To learn more about the Hero-Up for Children’s Cancer Race or to participate, visit their website. To make a gift in honor of Keith or a loved one, click the button below.