Riders raise awareness for children with cancer

More than 35 riders revved up their motorcycle engines and pulled out of the parking lot at Andrae’s Harley-Davidson, 2010 N. Lincoln Ave., Saturday morning, starting a ride through Urbana, Philo, Monticello, De Land and back to Champaign to end at Fifth Dimension Auto Repair, 2702 N. Mattis Ave. several hours later.

They were not riding just for fun; they were riding for a cause.

These riders were part of the fifth annual Cruisin’ 4 Kids with Cancer, a fundraising event started by a Homer, Ill. family to raise awareness about children with cancer in central Illinois.

Michael Humphrey of Champaign said he has participated in the event every year since it began in 2005.

“I love riding the motorcycle, and if I can help raise money for something like this, then it’s a good deal,” Humphrey said.

Jane Clark and her husband started the event out of frustration that there was very little children’s cancer awareness in the area.

“Even Relay for Life focuses more on adult cancer,” Clark said. “So I said, if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”

Clark’s son, Hunter, was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma cancer when he was 2 years old. Now he is 11, an eight-year survivor, Clark said. Her experience with her son’s treatment inspired her to start the fundraiser.

“Nobody has enough money to pay for cancer treatment,” Clark said.

When the event started five years ago, all proceeds went to Carle’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology unit to provide for the children in treatment.

Connie Drake of Danville said her son Derek was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002, and they met Jane and Hunter through the clinic at Carle. She said the money raised from the event helps the children a great deal.

“When you’re going through this, and there’s funding for something like a birthday party when they’re in the hospital or some type of recognition for the kids after they finish treatment, that means so much to the kids, it’s incredible,” Drake said.

But in October 2008, Clark, Drake and other families whose children have cancer were informed that Carle would be closing their Pediatric Oncology unit.

“Even the kids that were in the middle of treatment had to get a new doctor and get on the road,” Clark said.

She said people had to travel to Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere depending where their insurance sent them for treatment.

Instead of canceling the ride for 2009, Clark found a new recipient for the money raised. This year, the proceeds will go to the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Children’s Oncology Camping Organization, or Camp COCO.

“We didn’t want to discontinue the ride, so I said that’s where the money needs to go now,” Clark said.

The organization hosts a week-long camp for children diagnosed with cancer and their siblings, and raises enough money each year so the families can send their children free of cost.

“We don’t have to pay anything to send them there,” Clark said. “So I thought the least we could do was to give them the money we raise here so they can provide for more children in the future.”

Connie Drake said her son, Derek, and Clark’s son, Hunter had just gotten back from the camp.

“It’s a week on their own, and the kids get to have fun,” Drake said.

Clark said she will continue to donate the money raised at the event in the coming years. This year’s ride raised over $3,000, making the to-date total raised through the event approximately $19,700, she said. This will be enough to send six children to the camp.

Clark said she hopes the event continues to grow and raise money and awareness for children with cancer.

“The camp’s motto is ‘until there’s a cure, there’s a camp,’ and we feel the same way,” Clark said. “As long as there is something we can do, we’re going to do it.”