“It’s Not About You”
“How brain cancer made me passionate about helping others in my same situation.”
(step 7 of my 8-step plan to get you back on track towards pursuing the life you envision despite a cancer diagnosis or other major life-altering event).
Attach your goal to a CAUSE; make it bigger than yourself.
As I mentioned in my Endurance Magazine article (CLICK HERE to read the article: http://magazine.endurancemag.com/HTML5/Endurance-Magazine-LLC-Endurance-Magazine-July-2016 ), I was having trouble sleeping one night in our brand-new house while recovering from major brain surgery, and I got to thinking: most cancers and major diseases have some sort of fundraising initiative associated with them, and oftentimes it is in the form of a road race. Being a runner myself, a small glimmer of excitement built up inside of me as I started to connect the dots inside of my head: I’m a runner and I have brain cancer; does this mean that I now get my own race? After a quick Google search I discovered that yes, there is in fact an annual 5K race right here in Durham that specifically benefits the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke, the amazing institution where I just had my life-saving craniotomy, and the place where I would continue to receive the highest quality treatment and care in the world for quite possibly the rest of my life. The event is called Angels Among Us and features a 5K run through the Duke University campus, as well as a 3K Family Fun Walk through the beautiful Sarah P. Duke Gardens that are just a short walk from the Duke Cancer Center. That’s when the gears in my head (what was left of them after surgery, anyway) really started turning. I decided that the best way that I could give brain cancer the “middle finger” would be to turn it into something good; I would make a giant pitcher of the sweetest “lemonade” out of these huge, sour lemons that were just handed to me. What would be the point of going through all of the physical and emotional pain, stress, and other hardships of brain surgery, recovery, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychotherapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy if I couldn’t then turn around and do something good with it all? If the end result is something good, then brain cancer doesn’t win.
Coincidentally, I couldn’t think of a better way of saying “Thank You!” to doctors Henry Friedman, Allan Friedman, and the rest of their team of researchers, doctors, nurses, and staff for saving my life than by creating a huge fundraising team and raising a ton of money and awareness for their Brain Tumor Center. After considering the incredibly overwhelming and supportive response that Ashley and I received from our friends, family, coworkers, and clients immediately following the news of my cancer, I decided that I could recruit this same amazing community of supporters to do even greater good. With Ashley sound asleep right next to me, I feverishly tapped out an email on my phone to my TEAM of coworkers at EMPOWER. I had a plan to challenge them to help me assemble the largest team of runners and walkers possible for the 2016 Angels Among Us 5K, in honor of Dr. Henry Friedman who just so happened to be a long-standing personal training client of mine at EMPOWER. The immediate responses from my colleagues the next morning were brimming with excitement and included varying degrees of “Absolutely, we’re in!”, “I love this idea!”, and, “Heck yeah!! You just got me hype as hell!!”. Shortly after we announced our intentions to the EMPOWER community through a series of email blasts and Facebook posts, an EMPOWER client on Facebook coined the phrase #NESTORSTRONG. EMPOWER then put it on the backs of hundreds of “Duke blue” T-shirts (which we sold as part of our fundraising strategy), and our Angels Among Us team was born! In that first year we crushed both of our goals with over 100 registered runners and walkers (by far the most of any team that year), and we shattered our $5,000.00 fundraising goal by raising over $12,000.00 for brain cancer research with only our grassroots-style fundraising effort (no corporate donations). (CLICK HERE to watch EMPOWER Personalized Fitness Personal Training Director Blaine Warren hype-up TEAM #NESTORSTRONG before the start of the 2016 Angels Among Us 5K: https://youtu.be/cS7AurtMz3g) We definitely laid a solid foundation upon which we would only improve in the years to come.
As our physical and emotional connection to the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke rapidly grew, Ashley decided to join the Angels Among Us Planning Committee in January of 2016. While attending the monthly Committee meetings leading up to the April 2016 event, Ashley got to know Greg Sousa on a more personal level as he had been serving as a Survivor member of the Planning Committee for several years. After Greg’s untimely passing in July of 2016, I decided to join Ashley on the Planning Committee for the 2017 edition of the event. (CLICK HERE to read more about Greg Sousa in my previous post, A Moment of Clarity: http://becomepowerful.com/2018/01/26/a-moment-of-clarity/) As a result of my deeper involvement with the Angels Among Us organization, I have been afforded many unique opportunities to continue using my story to inspire and motivate others with brain cancer, including a short local television interview in preparation for the 2017 race (CLICK HERE to watch the interview: http://abc11.com/society/duke-university-gears-up-for-angels-among-us-/1910691/), several speaking engagements with the Angels Among Us Board of Advisors (CLICK HERE to watch me speak at the 2017 Angels Among Us Board of Advisors Spring Dinner with Tom O’Donnell: https://youtu.be/fdX1UeIEJJA); and a couple of feature stories on the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center website (CLICK HERE to read: https://tischbraintumorcenter.duke.edu/news/it-was-insane-battle-against-100-miles-cancer)(CLICK HERE to read: https://tischbraintumorcenter.duke.edu/news/team-paonessa-my-cancer-story-%E2%80%94-nestor-paonessa).
In 2017, we decided to shift TEAM #NESTORSTRONG’s focus more towards the pure fundraising side of things (as opposed to just having a bunch of people registered to run on our team, because we realized that it is the money that truly makes the difference in the Brain Tumor Center’s ability to conduct research, develop treatments, and hopefully someday, a cure), and so we quadrupled our goal to $20,000.00. We added several new fundraising initiatives, including a live and silent auction barbecue event hosted by EMPOWER, which proved to be extremely successful beyond our wildest expectations. In that one afternoon alone we surpassed our $20,000.00 goal! (CLICK HERE to watch Nestor and his neuro-oncologist Dr. Henry Friedman speak at the BBQ event: https://youtu.be/qZHLDXfYqjE).
Inspired by my hero Greg Sousa, who famously completed a 900 mile bike ride from Durham, NC to Sarasota, FL to raise funds for the Duke Brain Tumor Center (CLICK HERE to read about Greg’s ride in the July 2014 issue of Endurance Magazine: http://magazine.endurancemag.com/HTML5/Endurance-Magazine-LLC-Endurance-Magazine-July-2014). I extrapolated that if Greg could ride a bike that far, then surely I could run just 100 miles to raise funds and awareness for the Brain Tumor Center. In doing so, I could accomplish one of my big life goals (to run a 100 mile ultra-marathon) and do some more good with my story at the same time – a huge WIN-WIN! I promptly announced my goal and intentions on social media; I declared that I was going to complete the 2017 Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run to raise funds and awareness for the Brain Tumor Center at Duke and brain cancer research, and I encouraged people to donate money to the cause by making a per-mile pledge. I am extremely grateful for the response that this appeal generated, and these funds were included in our 2017 fundraising total of over $20,000 (CLICK HERE to read more about the 100 Mile run in my previous post, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: http://becomepowerful.com/2018/05/16/put-money-mouth/) (CLICK HERE to read a wrap-up of the run in the June 7th, 2017 edition of the Duke Chronicle: http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/06/a-battle-against-100-miles-cancer).
As of this writing, TEAM #NESTORSTRONG has raised over $40,000.00 for Angels Among Us to directly benefit research at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke.
If this post has inspired and motivated you to join the fight against brain cancer by making a tax-deductible donation to TEAM #NESTORSTRONG and Angels Among Us, please CLICK HERE to make your secure donation now! (https://secure3.convio.net/dccc/site/Donation2;jsessionid=00000000.app30123a?idb=265285538&df_id=3282&3282.donation=form1&FR_ID=1460&mfc_pref=T&PROXY_ID=23637&PROXY_TYPE=22&NONCE_TOKEN=A61D65FD1B61C29377836ABA1153F81B).