When 9-year-old Emily Lewis was diagnosed with pediatric cancer in 2006, everyone wanted to find a way to help. Emily was in fourth grade at when doctors found a lump in her abdomen that turned out to be Wilms tumor, a pediatric kidney cancer.
A successful surgery removed the tumor, but the cancer had already spread and after three years of fighting the disease, Emily died in 2009. Emily's Rainbow Run was at first a way for the community to show support for Emily, but now is a way for Emily's legacy to help others.
“So many people wanted to know what they could do for our family,” said Debbie Lewis, Emily’s mother.
Cathy Milowikci, the mother of Emily’s best friend Carrie, organized the first Emily’s Rainbow Run and Family Walk in 2009 to raise awareness of pediatric cancers like Emily's, to raise funds for research and to support Emily.
"Being a bystander and watching how gracefully the Lewises managed (Emily's) illness, diagnosis and treatment, and finally her passing was really inspiring," Milowikci said. "It made us change our priorities and we can see what’s important in life and we’re so grateful to be healthy. As a family, we feel an obligation to remember her and we want to make sure we continue her legacy. She was a fighter and you never would have known what she went through."
Emily was one of 700 other participants in the race's first year, which far surpassed Milowicki’s original goal of 300. Lewis said Emily was speechless when she arrived and saw friends, family and community members along with hundreds of people she had never met.
“It was really good to see people we didn’t even know come out to support Emily and the cause,” Lewis said. “Emily was at a loss for words, which didn’t happen very often.”
Emily was an outgoing girl who loved school. She never turned down an opportunity to help raise awareness for pediatric cancer throughout her treatment. She was a Flashes of Hope model, the inaugural recipient of the Emily Lewis Youth in Philanthropy Award from Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hopsital and she was always willing to share her story to raise awareness.
The event is in its third year now, and still growing. The first Emily’s Rainbow Run raised $10,000, the second raised $15,000 and this year organizers are hoping to raise $20,000.
“The one thing (my husband) John and I learned early on is that pediatric cancer research is really underfunded and we wanted a way to give back to the medical team at Rainbow Babies and Children that was doing everything they could to cure Emily’s cancer,” Lewis said.
Funds raised at the race will sponsor a graduate student at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. Any work published by the student will note that it was made possible by Emily’s Rainbow Run.
“We think it’s a nice legacy for Emily to have,” Lewis said. “She was so willing to try something new - any kind of new medicine. Her idea was that if it didn’t help her, it might help someone else in the future.”
The event includes a 4-mile race at 8 a.m., a 2-mile walk/run at 8:05 a.m. and a Kids Run at 9:15 a.m. All races will be at the track.
To participate, register online, make a donation or volunteer. To register in person, visit St. Ladislas Church between 9 a.m. and noon Saturday or get to the race early between 7 and 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“We’ve learned that a lot of people want to help, you just have to let them,” Lewis said. “We took the help and told people, 'This is what you can do.’ If we can come out and do this, we can beat cancer."
To see the Lewis family's video for this year's race, click here.
The Westlake Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast will be held in conjunction with Emily’s rainbow from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Westlake High School cafeteria. The $5 admission charge buys all-you-can-eat pancakes, sausage, juice and coffee. Children 6 years and under eat free.