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Grateful mom runs to raise funds for Griffin’s Friends

Date: 1/31/2012

Feb. 1, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Novice runner Joanna Guindon is training for her biggest race ever, and she’s doing it to say thank you to fellow runners and other volunteers who helped bring some normalcy to the life of her cancer-stricken son Jack — and her family — during their time of crisis.

On April 16, Guindon and six of her friends and family will suit up as “Griffin’s Friends Team Jack” to take on Heartbreak Hill and all the other challenges of the 26.2 mile course known as the Boston Marathon.

Her goal, however, isn’t necessarily to get to mile 26. It’s to reach mile 24 and greet the Griffin’s Friends families who will be waiting there to cheer their runners on.

“Each child is a captain and is assigned people [by Griffin’s Friends] who run for them and raise funds,” Guindon explained. “Every year we have gone to mile 24 and stood [waiting for Jack’s runners].”

Hitting that mark and supporting those young cancer sufferers will be, she said, her way of saying thank you to the members of Griffin's Friends who helped her family find “moments of joy” on their treatment journey to the now 8-year-old’s first anniversary of being diagnosed cancer free.

“I think that, in my mind, if it’s possible, [I’m running] to close that chapter in our lives and bring it full circle from [Jack] being diagnosed to [his] being cancer free,” Guindon said. “I want to celebrate his health and also be able to give back to other children who may need some help right now.”

To support the work of Griffin’s Friends — which Guindon explained gives local children stricken with cancer, as well as their siblings and parents, the chance to attend sporting events, seasonal parties and activities — she and Team Jack are hosting a fund-raising casino night.

“Shake, Rattle & Roll to Help Fight Childhood Cancer” will take place on Feb. 11 from 7 p.m. to midnight at the West Springfield Elks, 429 Morgan Road. Tickets are $25 per person, or $40 per couple. All proceeds from the evening, which will feature hors d’oeuvres, a DJ, raffles and gaming tables, will be donated to the work of Griffin’s Friends. Tickets are available at the West Springfield Credit Union, by calling Guindon at 204-7211 or Brenna Ryan at 315-0624.

“My priority is to raise as much money as I can to be able to give back,” Guindon said. “When Jack was in treatment we appreciated every opportunity to spend time together as a family, and Griffin’s Friends gave us that gift and we are grateful.

Guindon said Jack had been a “very healthy child with no signs of anything wrong, ever,” when, at the age of 4 he suffered a fall severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room. A month later successive blood tests revealed he had cancer.

“I don’t think shock is the word that describes correctly [our reaction], I don’t think there is one,” Guindon said of her and her husband, Tom’s, emotions.

What followed were three-and-a-half years of grueling treatments for Jack, and anxious moments for Guindon, her husband, and Jack’s two sisters, Keely, who was 8, and Megan, who was “just a baby” when their brother was diagnosed.

“[It] was not without side effects,” Guindon said. “He lost the use of his legs for a period of time, he had blood clots on his brain as a direct effect [of the chemotherapy], he was in the pediatric intensive care unit for a period of time, and on blood thinners for a year.”

Treatments also caused the boy to lose his hair and suffer swelling that nearly doubled the size of his young body.

“He never complained about anything,” Guindon remembered. “He let everybody do anything they needed to do [to him].”

Guindon said Jack’s courage, and the dedication of all the runners who tackled the Boston Marathon in Jack’s name during his years of treatment, make it easier for her to take on those increasingly longer training runs, especially on mornings that dip close to zero, as was the case several Sundays ago.

“It’s pretty difficult to go out and do that when I’ve never done that before,” Guindon said of the weekly trainings sponsored by Griffin’s Friends. “But it’s nice when you’re out there, cold or not, and there are 40, 50, 60 people around you an you can look ahead and to the side and know there are people who are having their moments, struggling [too], or feeling good.”

With last year’s Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Road Race, and a half-marathon in support of fallen police officers last summer under her belt, she feels confident she can be up to the challenge by Patriot’s Day.

Her teammate and good friend Ryan said she was grateful for the help Griffin’s Friends gave to Jack, and is more than willing to help raise money to support other families struggling with cancer.

“Everybody feels helpless when these things happen, but [Griffin’s Friends] is an organization dedicated to helping [families cope],” Ryan said. “We can’t cure cancer but we can help [the patients] still be a kid for a day.”

Ryan said individuals don’t need to be runners to help support the work of Griffin’s Friends.

“You can donate your tickets [to area events],” she said adding that the group takes donated tickets to sporting and other events and gives them to families so they can “take a vacation” from cancer for a few hours and have fun.

Individuals unable to attend the Team Jack fund-raiser on Feb. 11 can also support Griffin’s Friends by making a tax deductible donation to the organization at the West Springfield Credit Union at 58 Union St.

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