Alison Berna recently ran the NYC Marathon – a daunting challenge. But Liam Witt’s memory, and the inspiring legacy he continues to leave, carried her through the finish line. A long-time friend of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, Alison and her Apple Seeds partner, Allison Schlanger, have raised more than $100,000 for pediatric cancer research. In this special guest post, she shares her experience, and explains how Liam has her back…in more ways than one.
The name Liam means strong-willed warrior or protector. When my friends, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer founders Gretchen and Larry Witt, named their son nearly 10 years ago, they could not know just how aptly it would apply.
In Liam’s life, he embodied the meaning of a warrior. He was a 3, then 4, then a 5 year old child fighting the beast that is cancer in a way that no adult could. He looked it in the eye, with his shield and sword, and fought his best fight.
His enduring smiles told the world that he was doing OK, despite his tragic sentence. His enduring friendship told me and my girls that he was grateful for his life, despite his short window of opportunity to embrace it.
In Liam’s death, he continues to be a protector. This is clearly apparent in the way that the kids and parents who knew him infuse his memory into their lives. I, for one, carry Liam with me every single day. It’s hard to explain exactly how he runs so deeply within me; it’s sometimes a subconscious feeling. I know and feel that I hug my children a bit harder because of him as I know and feel that I seize each day a little more spontaneously as he did. And my heart cherishes this world more passionately because he was in it.
That is why last weekend I wore Liam’s photo on my back during the 2013 New York City Marathon.
Everyone chooses to race or run a marathon for different reasons…my reason was simply to experience it. I admit I did the marathon for me, as a personal challenge, as well as to provide a healthy example to share with my three kids. But as marathon weekend approached, I kept looking for strength to battle feelings of anxiety, and I found myself turning to Liam. I kept thinking about life, how short it is, and how I want to make every day matter. I kept thinking about the people I surround myself with and how each of them plays a distinct role in the experience of my life.
I kept wondering why certain people have to fight for their precious life and why cancer rips so many of those lives away. I thought about my friend Julie’s daughter, diagnosed last month with liver cancer and my friend Reem’s daughter, diagnosed last month with leukemia. Two children in one month, in my small circle, having to stand up with a shield and a sword to fight this #1 disease killer of children; the monster that is childhood cancer. I thought about the thousands of children who have to look cancer directly in the face and fight it. Like a warrior. Like Liam.
The fact is we can all do our part. Together, we can actually make this better. There are too many kids fighting their brutal battle against cancer every single day. It is the #1 disease killer among children. These children are victims as cancer indiscriminately rips away the core of their innocence and childlike happiness.
What’s apparent is that there is one thing that CAN help – money. Money for research, money for trials that will test new treatments. Treatments that could save many children’s lives or treatments that won’t cause the horrific secondary side effects faced by the lucky ones who survive. It is up to us to help. All we have to do is give.
Liam guided me through those 26.2 miles and I believe that he carried me through the crowds. I found myself unconsciously touching Liam’s photo on my back at various points throughout the run. I grabbed for him during the difficult moments, like that sneaky hill on 5th Avenue at mile 23.
But I grabbed for him during the joyous ones too, like running off the 59th Street Bridge onto 1st Avenue and feeling the throngs of the city’s energy surround me. He was there for it all.
Liam continues to live up to his name, Prince Liam the Brave, warrior and protector. The marathon was a reason for me to celebrate his amazing life, but it, I think, is somehow a microcosm of how we all live in this world. The ups and downs, the triumphs and travails, the mile 23 moments…
Through it all, it’s helpful to be reminded of the really big lessons the littlest people can teach us — to love the life that we have, to appreciate those around you, and to always, always, Love Like Liam.
– Alison Berna
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