While the searches for cures remain intensive and ongoing, cancer patients and their families in southwest Kansas find the latest diagnostics, treatments, support and hope in part through the generosity of the Leave a Legacy Foundation’s Spirit 5k and Legacy 10k road races, which on Saturday saw a record number of runners and walkers take to the streets in Garden City for the annual fundraising event.

“This weekend marked our 11th 5k and 10k runs that have become our signature fundraising event,” said Paige Kraus, Legacy co-chairman. “We set a new record with 837 registered participants combined for the two races and the Kids’ Run. It was so exciting to see local, area and even out-of-state runners come to Garden City to run in support of Legacy’s mission. It was amazing to see that many enthusiastic people run as one. We have come a long way in 10 years.”

For Veronica Flores, a registered nurse at St. Catherine Hospital’s Maternal-Child department, helping with the Leave a Legacy run began as a volunteer helping Heather Wright Renick, Breast Program coordinator and breast navigator at the Breast Center at St. Catherine Hospital, believing it was a good way to contribute.

But in June 2016, her good friend and fellow work associate Sarah Jameson was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and aggressive bile duct cancer that began in her gall bladder. And that is when it got serious and personal for Flores.

The Leave a Legacy race mantra has always been "Who Do You Fun For?" For Flores, that's an easy one.

So, she organized Team Sarah to show and give support not only to Sarah, but also her family.

“Soon after Sarah was diagnosed, she received a Dillons gift card. To this day, we still don’t know who it was from,” Flores said. “But that act of kindness made a lasting impression on her, her family and Team Sarah that we knew we had to get more involved so others can come to know they are not in this fight alone. So, this year, as we did in 2017, we all wore our Team Sarah T-shirts, had a group picture taken and ran or walked the race. We know Sarah was there with us every step of the course.”

In order to register a team for the Legacy runs, there needs to be a minimum of three people. Then others can sign on to join that team through the registration process. In Saturday’s race, Team Sarah had 21 members. Flores said it was just their way of remembering their great friend and colleague who battled hard until she died this past May.

According to Flores, participants know firsthand that the Legacy funds go to a good cause. She also has high praise for the community and support it provides to cancer patients and their families.

Jameson’s sons, twins Kyler and Kase, 7, and Jerin, 5, with husband Ross were part of this year’s race, too. Through community efforts and the Legacy Foundation, Jameson’s sons got to experience real firetrucks on their birthday, passes to Parrot Cove Water Park and gift cards for local restaurants.

“Sarah did all she could to create great memories with her family,” Flores said.

This experience also has impacted Flores' family. Her son, Esai Morales, 15, heard his mother talk about the foundation and its races. As a Garden City High School cross country runner, he showed his support by running in the 10k on Saturday, not only winning his age bracket but placing seventh overall in the 10k race.

“I cannot thank this community enough for their generosity,” Flores said. “It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by a family member, someone they know or they themselves who has or has had cancer. Through the Leave a Legacy, the community and the Heartland Cancer Center, the fight against this disease is made a little easier through their generosity and compassion.”

The Legacy Mission

According to Jim Deal, co-chairman of the Leave a Legacy race event, the foundation began in 2007 as a way to honor Laura Badgett Kleysteuber, a close friend of the race’s founders. The 30-year-old mother of two died in November 2006. During her six-year battle with the disease, which also claimed her mother, Sandy Badgett, in September, she walked or ran as long as she could. She greeted family, friends and strangers with a wink and a smile that is now reflected in the foundation’s logo.

Leave a Legacy celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017, when the newly remodeled Heartland Cancer Center hosted over 700 runners and a Chris Cakes pancake feed. As what has now become a foundation tradition, the race day concludes with a casino night at the Golf Club at Southwind.

“From the proceeds of the race and casino night, we have been able to accomplish remarkable things,” Deal said. “We’ve made a $10,000 donation toward the purchase of the 3D mammography machine, which became a reality this spring. It will go a long way in helping in the early detection of breast cancer. We contributed $20,000 toward St. Catherine Hospital’s Midwest Cancer Alliance membership, which gives the cancer center patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials right here at home.”

Deal said Leave a Legacy has established an endowment fund with the Western Kansas Community Foundation to help ensure there are monies to continue Legacy’s mission for generations to come.

Race proceeds and ongoing donations from corporations, businesses and families and friends also provide dollars for Laura’s Touches, which include gift cards for gas and other non-covered expenses to cancer patients taking chemotherapy or radiation treatments at Heartland. There is also Fill the Fridge, where twice a month the foundation stocks the cancer center’s patient refrigerator with snacks and bottled water for patients and caregivers to have during treatments.

“We started Coffee with Caregivers, which is a group that meets once a month at Patrick Dugan’s Coffee House to support those caring for loved ones fighting cancer,” Kraus said. “We also provide a free cancer screening in both Garden City and Ulysses.”

Kraus said the Leave a Legacy Foundation has no employees or administrative costs, so all donations are given directly back to the patients and families in southwest Kansas.

“We continue to be inspired by Laura’s strong belief that people in western Kansas deserve the best cancer fighting resources available,” Kraus said. “The foundation’s mission is dedicated to supporting that vision so area residents can receive top-notch care close to home, among family and friends. ‘Who Do You Run For?’ helps make that a reality.”