By Ali Landes, Founder
Part 1: How the Wendy Walk Helped Heal My Mom
Sitting in a hospital room for days and weeks at a time can become dreary and hopeless. There are only so many topics to be covered every day without having the conversation repeat itself time after time. How many times can you ask your mom how she is feeling? Is she in pain? If she wants to talk about her situation? If she is hungry? What unappetizing thing on the hospital menu does she feel like eating today? However, one topic never got old or boring, The Wendy Walk.
My siblings and I founded the Wendy Walk after my mom failed her second chemotherapy treatment and she had no other options. Like most people with questions, we turned to the internet, and the fact that there was so little information made my mom feel so alone. My siblings and I sought to change this — we wanted to make a community of support for my mom and find a cure. We started Wendy Walk to raise funds and awareness for sarcoma, and to provide hope, strength, and courage to those fighting rare cancers.
The topic of Wendy Walk energized us all and excited everyone involved. We turned the ICU and the 8th floor of Cedars-Sinai hospital into a makeshift headquarters. We would have brainstorming sessions and think of the endless possibilities and of all the people Wendy Walk had the potential to help. While my mom’s physical abilities would at times seem limited by her reality, there was no limitation on what Wendy Walk could achieve. How could we get the word out? Who could we pitch? Who could we get involved? How long should the walk be? Wendy Walk provided us with something tangible to rally behind, something to fight for, and something to care about. The cause provided my mom reasons to dress up in cute workout clothes and take pictures and film videos for our Facebook page, it gave her a reason to show up and speak to thousands of people each spring around the country. It gave her thousands of people who cared about the journey and cheered, prayed, and cried with her along the way.
Over the course of the next few years – and through four major surgeries, eight chemotherapies, and two radiation treatments – my mom consistently beat the odds by participating in activities that defied what her doctors thought was possible. She cycled, skied, and even rock climbed.
By January 2013, my mom had one kidney, one lung, no spleen, no diaphragm, and tumors strangling her esophagus – but she had her family, her friends, and most importantly the Wendy Walk community.
"As long as I keep moving, the cancer can't catch me.”
As her health deteriorated, my mom fought hard to do something active every single day. When she was just three months from dying she responded to an interview question with: “I don’t think staying in bed is good for anyone. To me, the more you can push yourself the better you are. When I feel strong and athletic, I feel anything is possible, a cure is possible, staying strong is possible. Something about being athletically strong makes me feel good about myself.” In the same interview she was asked about what makes her feel hopeful, and she responded: “There are times when I have been really low, but the Wendy Walk effort boosts my spirits. If we truly could find some kind of cure it would be beyond belief, I am praying it happens.”
Part 2: How the Wendy Walk Helped Heal Me
Wendy Walk was a healing force for my mom, and a source of healing for me during her battle. Strategizing about the Wendy Walk gave me a reprieve from the chemo, blood tests, oxygen tanks, and Dilaudid and morphine pumps. The Wendy Walk allowed me to focus on the bright spots of my mom’s illness. It allowed me to focus on the love and support of family and friends. The Wendy Walk gave us a common goal. I could not control what the cancer was doing to her body, but I could control the Wendy Walk. Cancer could take my mom from me, but it could not prevent me from bringing people together to raise awareness for sarcoma.
The Wendy Walk continues to heal me. The Wendy Walk helps heal the grief, the pain, and the hole in my heart left vacant following her passing. The opportunity to share in the joy and sorrow of patients and families walking this journey of sarcoma allows me to give back all the love and light my mom and I were so generously given on her journey. The Wendy Walk eases the loss I feel by giving me the chance to walk this journey with other daughters, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, mothers, and fathers. The Wendy Walk is a vehicle of light that continues to shine.
Ali Landes is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Wendy Walk. This national non-profit organization raises funds and awareness for sarcoma by hosting walks and numerous other events around the country each year. Wendy Walk has raised more than $2 million for international research from individuals, corporations, and family foundations. Wendy Walk hosts events in Miami, New York, Park City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington DC. Before working with Wendy Walk full time, Ali served as a grant writer for several organizations and worked for the NYC Public Advocates Office. Ali graduated from Tufts University and from the Boston University Oxford Honors Program. She now resides in Los Angeles after spending the early part of her career in New York City.