When Peggy Flannigan started having trouble finding words and writing legibly, she never even considered it might be a brain tumor.
“I always thought a brain tumor meant headaches and dizziness and blurred vision. I had none of those things,” said the Tremont resident, who was diagnosed through an MRI in 2002 after her family persuaded her to see her doctor.
“I went to my family doctor and said I’m tired all the time, I’m having trouble finding words and my handwriting is bad,” said Flannigan, a nurse who teaches at Bradley University. “When I was told I had a brain tumor, it was the farthest thing from my reality that I could have possibly been told.
Flannigan’s tumor was fairly large with a lot of swelling around it, which was contributing to her symptoms. She had surgery in Peoria the next week and was back to doing dissertation research for her doctorate degree two months later.
Not long after she was diagnosed, Flannigan joined the first Mark Linder Walk for the Mind, started by and named for a Peoria native who felt alone when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and wanted to create a way for brain tumor survivors and patients to find support from each other and help raise funds for research. Flannigan took over as chair of the fundraising walk in 2005 after Linder lost his battle at the age of 31.
“Similar to Mark’s story, I didn’t really know anyone else who had a brain tumor when I was diagnosed,” Flannigan said. “So I was really excited when I received this flyer in the mail about the first walk. And now it’s our 15th year.”
This year’s one-mile walk takes place Sept. 30 on the Riverfront side of the Peoria RiverPlex, 600 NE Water St. Sign-up for a raffle and day-of registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the program kicks off at 9:30 a.m. The registration fee is $20 for adults and $10 for children 10 and younger. Survivors are free.
This year’s raffle includes pizza for a year from Papa John’s and Double A’s Pizza; a one week condo rental in the Ozarks; Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals tickets and more.
The event has grown from about 150 participants in 2003 to 750 people last year and has raised more than $550,000 for brain cancer research since its inception.
“The first Walk raised about $12,000, which went to a national (brain tumor research) organization,” Flannigan said. “This is the sixth year since we started donating all funds to the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, and we’ve been able to give them $50,000 almost every year. We are hoping to at least meet that amount if not more this year.”
Flannigan said proceeds from the early years went to a national organization because Mark linder wasn’t aware that UICOMP had a brain tumor research program. After a local neurosurgeon came to the Walk one year and told Flannigan about the local research, the committee voted unanimously to keep the funds local.
Dr. Kiran Velpula, a specialist in cancer biology and tumor metabolism, and Dr. Andrew Tsung, a world-renowned neurosurgeon and researcher, lead a team of about 10 post-doctorate researchers and medical students working on various brain cancer studies at UICOMP. Velpula said the Mark Linder Walk for the Mind is vital to the team’s research.
“Because of cuts to federal funding for basic science research, we would be hard-pressed to continue our brain tumor research without the Walk. The funds raised go directly to paying for lab materials and research time in the lab. In short, the money raised in Peoria stays in Peoria,” he said.
While the research team is making progress, Velpula said there is still much to learn. “For example, surgical techniques used now compared to a decade ago have improved, but the current chemotherapeutic agents being used are not that different compared to 10 years ago, which is why our research is so important,” he noted. “We also are sharing what we are learning in the lab by publishing our findings so that others may benefit from our progress.”
Velpula said UICOMP researchers are “targeting how brain tumors derive their energy and developing compounds that bind them in a way that hinders their ability to grow and reproduce.”
He added, “We believe these non-traditional methods will open new doors to future life-saving treatments.”
In addition to raising funds and helping brain tumor survivors and patients find support, the Walk for the Mind also strives to raise awareness.
“Brain tumors don’t discriminate,” Flannigan said. “They don’t care if you’re young or old or what color your skin is or what your standard of living is. Brain tumors can happen to anyone. And if it happens to you, we want you to know you’re not alone.”
The team of survivors that participate in the Walk has grown from 12 the first year to about 50 now, Flannigan said. “I think the youngest survivor I remember seeing was about 7 or 8, and we have people in their 70s. There are so many people who come to the Walk not knowing anyone, but they almost always leave knowing at least one or two other people they can call on.”
For more information and to pre-register, which guarantees a T-shirt, visit www.marklinderwalkforthemind.org. The website also has information about a brain tumor support group, Meet for the Mind, that meets every other month at the Illinois Neurological Institute office in Peoria.
—- ‘Walk for Mind’ links brain tumor patients, survivors for support —-