Cancer patients’ strength inspires community

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More than 90 percent of children and teens diagnosed with brain cancer die within 18 months of diagnosis, but to 18-year-old Rachel Stratton from Orem, the devastating diagnosis didn’t bring her down. She has used her cancer experience as an opportunity to inspire.

Lindsay Beekman, race coordinator, shares a moment with Rachel Stratton, a girl from Orem who was diagnosed with brain cancer 20 months ago. (Photo by Natalie Stoker)
Lindsay Beekman, on left, the race coordinator, shares a moment with Rachel Stratton, a girl from Orem who was diagnosed with brain cancer 20 months ago. (Photo by Natalie Stoker)

Stratton was diagnosed with brain stem glioma, more commonly referred to as brain cancer, and given nine months to live in August 2012. Her attitude is positive, and she continually strives to uplift others. She focuses her efforts on motivational speaking, visiting with other cancer patients and volunteering for various organizations supporting cancer research.

Stratton expresses her feelings and recounts her experiences via her blog, www.prayersforrachel.com, where she frequently uses the tagline, “I can do hard things.”

“I’m so grateful that God has found it beneficial to keep me around here for a while,” Stratton blogged on April 30. “My life is still happening even though I’m about 12 months overdue. I’m trying hard, and I’m going strong.”

Her optimism is contagious as her blog currently stands with more than 300 followers, 500,000 views and was featured on KSL, Good Things Utah and in The Daily Herald. Despite her hundreds of doses of chemotherapy and 67 doses of radiation, Stratton is determined to not let cancer stop her from living.

Elevate Fitness and Rehab hosted a Charity Run Saturday for Stratton and five others currently battling a form of cancer. This annual event, benefitting cancer patients and their families, is currently in its third year and continues to grow.

Each year the race takes on a superhero theme, resembling the strength that lies in each patient and family being honored at the event. Runners are encouraged to dress up, showing up in capes, goggles and other classic superhero attire.

“This theme has to do with helping,” said Kari Iglesias, an Elevate team member from Orem. “A superhero exemplifies someone who helps others. It’s a fun way to market support for those in our community who are struggling.”

Community members from around Utah come out to support those with cancer and other life threatening illnesses in the Elevate 5K on May 10, 2014. (Photo by Natalie Stoker)
Runners support those with cancer and other life threatening illnesses in the Elevate 5K race. (Photo by Natalie Stoker)

Event coordinators said their involvement has impacted their lives significantly. While it may be intended to bring strength to patients and their families, those involved in organizing the event said they are lifted and inspired as well.

“I can’t even explain how amazing these people are,” said race coordinator Lindsay Beekman. “Both of my parents are cancer survivors, so I feel like I’m carrying it along with these patients.”

The lives of those involved in this annual event are changed forever because of their interaction with those full of such optimism.

“Being a part of this race motivates me to keep going,” said cancer patient Jenny Watts. “It keeps me positive and makes me want to help others.”

Watts is currently fighting her own battle with bladder cancer and finds strength in the support that comes from the cancer patient community.

While each patient honored at this event is unique and inspiring, Stratton holds a special place in Beekman’s heart.

“I grew particularly close to Rachel while planning this event,” Beekman said. “Her story has really had an impact on me.”

Stratton is grateful for the support she feels from her family, friends and the community. She receives strength by turning to God and acknowledging how blessed she is despite her seemingly incomprehensible trials and circumstances. She is grateful for all she has learned through having cancer and continually reminds her blog followers to appreciate the ups and downs of day-to-day life.

“You might not have cancer, but it’s easier than you think to catch a cancerous attitude,” Stratton blogged on Jan. 25. “Learn to appreciate people while you have them despite their troubles, trials and worries.”

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