Sunday, May 6, is the 11th annual Seattle Brain Cancer Walk, one-mile symbolic walk throughout the grounds of Seattle Center that’s meant to raise awareness about brain cancer and fund brain cancer research and clinical trials in the Pacific Northwest.
For two Renton residents, the event is an annual tradition where they share their stories, walk in solidarity with others and raise money for a cause they believe in.
Walking on her own terms
This year will be Maddy Betlach’s third time participating in the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk, but it will be her first time doing so without a walker.
The Renton resident has been relying on her walker since she was diagnosed with medulloblastoma in 2012.
Betlach was a university student at the time, experiencing severe and frequent headaches.
The doctors claimed they were tension headaches, perhaps induced by stress from school.
The headaches were soon accompanied with vomiting.
“It got worse and worse, to the point where I was sleeping on my bathroom floor so I could be closer to the toilet,” she said.
When Betlach started getting double vision, she knew something was wrong.
“(A doctor) tried to convince us it was migraines, but my mom laid down an ultimatum. She said, ‘If you order imaging, we don’t have to fight about this.’”
Less than thirty minutes after the MRI, the doctor told Betlach to get herself admitted at the hospital immediately.
They had found the medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that is often found in kids.
Betlach underwent surgery to remove the tumor, which was followed by in-patient rehab, chemotherapy, radiation, more surgeries and recovery that took over two years.
The initial surgery left Betlach with coordination and mobility issues.
In 2015, she moved to Renton for a job at Boeing. Ever since she made the Pacific Northwest her home, she’s been participating in the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk each year.
“This is an institution that’s raising money for research, and research is going to benefit everyone, not just the local community,” she said. “If I can help prevent even one person going through the same thing, that’s worth it for me.”
Betlach said she still has balance issues, but she’s gained enough strength to do the one-mile walk without a walker — a significant feat for her.
The student working behind the scenes
Maddie Jones attended the Seattle Cancer Walk during her freshman year. The Hazen High School Senior was a ninth grader at the time, and was part of the cheerleading squad that encouraged participants on.
There was something about this particular walk that ignited a passion in her.
“I felt the overarching sense of community there. Sometimes you go to walks, it’s heavy and you feel secluded in your own group,” Jones said. “At the Seattle Brain Cancer Walk, it was so exciting, people were so joyful even in the midst of such a terrible disease they’re fighting. I had so many people come up to me to have conversations. It was a loving experience. And I knew this was something I wanted to spend my time doing.”
Jones started inquiring how she could involved and found herself joining the walk’s committee. Now Jones, the only teenager in the committee, meets each month leading up to the event to work on infusing new ideas, growing in size and improving the event each year.
While she’s gained practical skills any high school student would need to succeed — including organization, team work and time management — she also learned invaluable soft skills.
“It taught me determination, to work towards a goal I’m passionate about with other people who are passionate about the same thing,” Jones said. “It has developed what I see myself doing in the future.”
After graduation, Jones is attending Whitworth University in Spokane. She said she wants to be surgeon.
“Working as a committee member solidified my choice to pursue medicine,” she said. “I have a pathway to it now. I’m getting experience.”
While university life will limit how much Jones will be able to help out, she said she plans on doing whatever she can virtually and that she plans on attending the event each year.
“(This event) has a place in my heart,” she said.
Join the walk
The Seattle Brain Cancer Walk will take place on Sunday, May 6 at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion, 205 Harrison St, Seattle.
All proceeds from the event supports research efforts at the Ben & Catherine Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment at Swedish Medical Center.
On-site registration is $35 per person. Registration opens at 7:30 a.m.
The walk starts at 9 a.m. and closing festivities and survivor tribute starts 10 a.m.
For more information about the event, visit http://support.swedishfoundation.org/site/TR?fr_id=1100&pg=entry.