PROFILE: Student Relay For Life Volunteer Will Walk In Memory Of A Friend
Signups are underway for UC’s third-annual Relay for Life fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society April 29-30. UC electrical engineering major John Reynolds will be one of the walkers covering McMicken Commons. It will be the second year he’ll be walking in memory of his friend, Andy Holmes.
Date: 4/4/2005 8:00:00 AM
By: Jacob Dirr
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Other Contact: Dawn Fuller
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover
John Reynolds, a junior at the University of Cincinnati, says he knows what it’s like to lose someone to cancer and has chosen to do something about it by participating in UC’s Relay For Life, which will be held April 29-30 on McMicken Commons.
Like so many others, John says he endured the pain of watching a loved one seemingly defeat cancer – only to succumb to it a short time later when his best friend, Andy Holmes, died from a brain tumor in August 2003.
“Andy and I were best friends since kindergarten,” Reynolds says. “We knew everything about each other, and half the time all it took was a little look and grin and we knew exactly what the other was thinking.”
Not wanting to accept his friend’s death, Reynolds says he bottled up his emotions and tried not to think about what had happened. However, about six months after his friend passed away, Reynolds says he made the transition from passive mourner to determined activist, after he heard about the Relay For Life at UC.
The American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life is a national overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs provided by the American Cancer Society. This is UC’s third year of hosting one of the fund-raisers. Last year, 45 teams walked at UC and raised over $50,000 for the American Cancer Society.
This year, the event has grown and organizers anticipate 50 teams will be camping out at McMicken Commons. Team members will take turns continually walking or running around the track for 18 hours, says Jessica Aspra, the UC Relay For Life public relations student chair.
Last year, Reynolds says he raised $780.96 and walked 14 out of 18 hours of the relay, enduring massive fatigue and thunderstorms. “Last spring was my first chance to help out since Andy has passed,” Reynolds says. “It’s still hard to talk about, but I’m finally able to open up about it.”
Reynolds found out his best friend had cancer while on vacation the summer before his senior year at Oakwood High School, in Dayton, Ohio.“I called home just to check up on everything and that’s when I heard the few heart-wrenching words that will linger in my mind forever: ‘John, Andy has brain cancer.’”
Holmes, it turned out, had an extremely rare form of cancer that had existed since childbirth, of which there are only 150 documented cases.
“I was in agony,” Reynolds recalls, “hundreds of miles away my best friend was having surgery to remove a brain tumor the size of a baseball, and I could do nothing.”
The surgery left Holmes physically impaired, but after 2-3 months of intense therapy, the support of his family and daily visits from Reynolds, he began to make progress. In June 2001, Holmes became well enough to finish high school and graduate with his classmates.
However, after the childhood friends left for college, Holmes to the University of Dayton and Reynolds to UC, things began to unravel. A CAT scan revealed four more tumors where the other one had been.
Reynolds was in shock, he says. “I would go to visit him and just watch him get weaker and weaker. I spent three months with my best friend, knowing he may be gone the next day, but talking like we would be together forever.”
Cancer has become especially poignant in Reynolds life, because it also claimed his grandfather. His grandmother is a cancer survivor. “Cancer isn’t biased,” Reynolds says. “It can happen to anyone.”
Reynolds says Relay For Life brought him the opportunity to spend time with supportive friends, along with the hope that his loss will not become another person’s tale. “The best reward of the relay is the time spent with others,” Reynolds says. Some of his fondest memories from last year include walking with his priest, his fraternity brothers showing up in the middle of the night, with fresh shoes, to walk with him, and the beautiful sound of team member Sarah Hoschak’s singing as she walked alongside him in the waking hours of morning.
Since last spring, Reynolds has also accepted multiple invitations to speak in front of Cincinnati-area high school students after news spread of his 14-hour trek on McMicken Commons. “The Relay For Life is an overnight event in order to show that cancer never sleeps,” Reynolds says, “and I knew that one day of walking was nothing compared to what my best friend had to suffer through.
“So on April 29, I began walking.”
UC’s Relay For Life, organized by the UC Center for Community Engagement, has online registration for volunteers and donations.