May 18--ROCHESTER -- Dover Middle School student Ahna McCusker, 12, loves to run because she says it makes her feel powerful. So powerful, that she believes doing it could save her aunt's life.
Rochester resident and Dover native Christine Skidd, 38, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2007 and believed she had beat the disease completely following years of chemotherapy treatments.
But, after a seizure at a family party recently, she was informed on May 1 her tumor had grown back as two tumors, on the right side of her brain. The doctor told her she would have to receive chemotherapy treatments for the rest of her life now, and Skidds said she knew she would have to keep working as a part-time paralegal to manage the large health care costs.
But amid the terrifying and overwhelming news, Skidds was blown away to learn her niece launched a secret campaign called "Run 4 Auntie."
"I felt a little out of control, and felt like I didn't have control over anything," she said. "Then Ahna told me she come up with this idea. It made me feel, not grounded, but just (like I had) a sense of peace. I felt like no matter what, everything's going to be OK."
McCusker started raising money for Skidds on April 22, $1 at a time. For every mile she ran on July 4, she said she would seek sponsors to pay $1 per mile. So, she said she is determined to reach her goal of traveling 1,000 miles.
"I feel like that if I run 1,000 miles, I'll go through the same pain and endurance my aunt has to go through and maybe I can help her with it by going through it myself," she said.
Skidds said she did not know her niece planned to run so many miles, and was incredibly moved by the gesture.
"I don't know how people who don't have medical insurance do (this)," she said, referencing the extreme costs she pays now, even with her family's insurance. "For Ahna to realize that and want to help take care of that for us, she's just a sweetheart ... I think when I was 12, I wasn't thinking about doing those kinds of things for other people. She's just a sweet girl."
Andrea McCusker, Skidd's younger sister by two years, says their family has always been "tight-knit." The two sisters both attended University of New Hampshire, both married men named Steve just months apart, and had their children at nearly the same time. Ahna and her cousin Garrett, Skidd's son, were born just 10 days apart and the family said the children are very close.
"She was really upset when Christine was diagnosed back in 2007," Andrea McCusker said, noting how concerned Ahna has been concerned for Garrett. "The kids have been really involved from day one, and because of how close our family is, and when (Christine) was doing better, when this tumor was found, it really hit Ahna hard."
But, Ahna said she turned those sad feelings into something to drive her forward. She's raised more money than she expected -- some people donating large sums despite the number of miles she will run -- and has been successfully selling bracelets with "Run 4 Auntie" on them for $3 each. She said her fundraising goal is $1,000, but she hasn't even started to count what she has raised she far.
"That may be a big goal, but I have very generous sponsors," she said.
Ahna's father, Steve McCusker, said he was incredibly proud of his daughter.
"We're sad and we're anxious and we wish (Christine) didn't have to go through this," he said. "The onset was very scary and (us) not knowing. Now we're here again. It's the not knowing that makes you just go day-to-day thinking, 'Man, I wish we could just figure this out.'"
Ahna said she will be running in a local track event this Saturday, May 19, at Dover High School to contribute to the miles she is tallying up, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.Andrea McCusker said her family was thrilled when they heard the Kids Who Care group sponsoring the event pledged some of their funds raised from the 5th annual "Walk for the Cure" to Ahna's "Run 4 Auntie." Christine said she would try and run is as much of it as she could, too.
"It's always been like this," she said. "I know (Ahna) would do anything for me just as I would do anything for her."
Ahna said she can't imagine what her aunt is going through but she will do everything to try and be there with love and support.
"We know what people are going through with cancer but we have no idea what it's really like, what they're going through," she said. "So if you can do as much as you can to see that they're loved and cared about, that will make their struggle all the more easier."
The McCuskers invite the community to pledge money to Ahna's cause by mailing donations to 2 Gold Post Road, Dover with checks made out to Ahna McCusker.
(c)2012 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
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