For the past three years, the Livermore, California community gathers on the first Saturday of November for Roanne's Race, a 5K/10K to honor a young woman they lost to colon cancer at age 24. Rain or shine, family, friends and neighbors celebrate the life of Roanne Cairel--and extend her legacy by donating all of the proceeds of the race to young onset colon cancer research. We reached out to two of the organizers of Roanne's Race to learn more about their incredible fundraising efforts, and the girl that inspired them.
Who is Roanne?
Erica - Roanne was our best friend. She was our sister, our love, our inspiration and our hope. We first learned about colon cancer one night in a text message from Roanne, shortly after she learned the results of her test. Stage 3 Colon Cancer in a few digital words appeared on a bright screen. We had no idea what cancer stages meant, nor the seriousness of colon cancer. We always wanted to believe it was not as bad as it appeared on paper, and I think she did, too--she lived with more vigor than anyone I know. Now, we feel connected to colon cancer with heavy empathy, in that Roanne's Race is a local contributor to helping find a cure, and using that as a means to share Roanne's spirit of hope with a larger community.
Lauren - I don't typically remember the first day that I meet many people, but I remember the first day I met Roanne. She was very out of the ordinary. It was one of the first few weeks of 7th grade, still warm out, and color guard tryouts were taking place. We gathered in the afternoon in the multi-purpose room to start a warmup, and Roanne was a new face in the group. She was wearing a BRIGHT yellow FUBU T-shirt and jeans, and her dark hair was full and long and enviable. I can't remember if we talked that day--we probably did an icebreaker before the warmup and tryouts. She was so talented, I noticed that day, with more skill in dance and using color guard equipment than I had learned in a year. Before we knew it we were spending our high school years together, and she was a best friend, someone to room with when our colorguard team traveled, a friend to eat lunch with every day, a friend to drive around aimlessly with on Saturday nights after we got our licenses, and she was more than colon cancer.
Even after her diagnosis, it was clear to me that that she wanted to do everything as a normal teen/young woman, even through the last few months of her life. I think we wanted everything to stay normal, too, but we wish we were better prepared for the severity of the disease, to help her cope in a real way. We wish that there had been more information directed towards people our age--but at that point I don't think we knew where to look, or what to look for.
Why did you decide to get so involved in the fight against colon cancer?
We got involved in the colon cancer space of course because of Roanne, and her desire to be remembered. Once Roanne went into hospice care, the immediacy of needing to face mortality hit us all really hard. At one point she expressed that she was afraid once she died she eventually would be forgotten, so we asked her what she'd want to be remembered by and we'd do it. She said she wanted a 5k to raise money for colon cancer research, and that's exactly what we did. With this race we've been able to not only raise awareness in our own community, but keep our word to Roanne. That's the key reason it's important to me, to us.
But a new and unexpected reason that it's important, is because of the number of people that are inspired by the event, by Roanne's story and by the positive, community vibes that exist at Roanne's Race in Livermore. The past three events have been bright, sunny mornings in November, where the crowd is full of energy and motivation. The awareness we can provide and the help of Colon Cancer Alliance as a strong advocate with the right resources, has been a good anchor. We want people to know her story exists and that colon cancer happens to people under the age of 50. Our community loved Roanne, and they have been unbelievably supportive. We did this for her.
The money that Roanne's Race has raised has funded nearly half of the Blue Hope Research Award. What does it mean to you to have such an impact on colon cancer research targeted towards young adults under 50?
Everyone wants to go through life and leave it having made some kind of mark on the world, Roanne didn't really get the chance to make her mark, so we made it for her. Because of how inspirational she was to us, we were motivated to create this event in hopes of making a change, in hopes of changing how colon cancer is looked at, in hopes of saving young adults from her fate. Funding this research award is everything we set out to do, we wanted to make a difference and we wanted Roanne's name to be remembered. We feel a little bit like we're dreaming, because how often does what you set out to do actually come to life?! We're beyond thrilled, and cannot wait to learn more about the award recipient and the progress of research.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about Roanne's Race?
Everyone who lends even the smallest hand in making Roanne's Race possible every year has a personal relation to her. We're a group of family and friends with a wide range of years that connect us, but we're family. When we started in our first year it really turned into a way to cope with her death, it was a way to heal. Now we do it because we know how much of a difference we make, and how many people we've touched. There's nothing like this race in our community, and people have told us how grateful they are to have us advocating for this awareness and that they'll run it every year. We do this for her, to keep her spirit alive, keep her name out there, and to keep her spirit alive and inspiring people--like she did for us.
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help.