When my father died from pleural mesothelioma in April 2000 at the age of 51, I was in a hopeless place, looking anywhere for comfort. The Meso Foundation was in its infancy, nowhere near the organization it is today. Yet, I knew that I wanted to be involved in raising awareness and money for this cause. It was my coping mechanism and I jumped in. But I soon realized that organizing a fundraiser would be a huge undertaking by myself. It wasn’t until 2005, when the Foundation connected me with Janice Malkotsis, another woman who had lost her father to peritoneal mesothelioma and lived near me in New York, that the first 5K Walk for Hope became a reality and we planned something for the following spring.
That first year was tough; we canvassed all of Long Island—reaching out to companies to donate money or services and mailing (yes, real mail was still big!) hundreds of pamphlets and donation forms for the event. We got T-shirts and printing services donated so we could avoid that big expense. On the day of the walk, it was a literal monsoon outside and there was no rain date. We crouched under an awning in our spot in the park and were shocked as about 100 of our family members and friends showed up. I like to say it was like that final scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the townspeople bring in piles of money to help George Bailey. When all was said and done, we had raised more than $20,000 — and this was before we started the online donations!
Now, as we prepare to hold the 10th Annual 5K Walk for Hope, I’m amazed at how we’ve been able to evolve the event over the past decade. In our second year, we were lucky enough to secure a sponsor who generously donated $5,000. A few years later, they were joined by a few others, all of whom have been sponsors ever since. We’ve recognized their generosity by printing their names on the back of our event t-shirts and announcing them at the beginning of every walk.
We also had to learn how to evolve our donation process. Early on, we received feedback that online donations would be far easier than getting cash or checks, so we worked with the Foundation to give each participant the option to form a team and get donations through a friends-asking-friends platform. We’ve even turned it into an informal competition with different teams, and we had our biggest year yet in 2013, raising $30,000 — nearly $15,000 of which was online. That was also the year we posted in local event listings and had an ad in the local newspaper. We were able to draw new participants and even two local college film crews who produced news segments for a class project. It may not have raised money, but it helped raised awareness; it was a few more people that now knew about mesothelioma, how it affects people, and the urgency to find a cure.
It’s hard to keep anything fresh after 10 years, but Janice and I have worked tirelessly to do so. I’ve also personally become increasingly involved with the Foundation, coming onto the Board of Directors in 2012 and recently becoming a member of the Rising Leaders Council. Both Janice and I have high hopes that this 10th annual 5K Walk for Hope, something neither of us could’ve predicted a decade ago, will be our best one yet. We originally decided on our name because we know it’s important to have hope when you’re talking about a disease with such a small survival rate. And we do have hope—hope that we’re making a true difference, hope that we can raise awareness, and hope that the nearly $200,000 we’ve raised will help people affected by this disease. That’s something that’s been at least 10 years in the making, and we’ll keep on doing this for as long as it takes to reach our end goal: a cure.