Fighting cancer is a family matter |

Fighting cancer is a family matter

Carla Jean Whitley
AJ and his mom Catherina spend some time together at a park near their home in Basalt.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |


When and where: 10:15 a.m. Saturday, Sayre Park in Glenwood Springs

What: Rally the Valley raises money to support cancer patients at Valley View Hospital. The money goes to housing for families during cancer treatment, plus care including massage, acupuncture, support groups, yoga and more.

History: The event’s inspiration was a walk in 2011 around the track at Glenwood Springs High School to support Peyton Armstrong, an 11-year-old leukemia patient. Peyton’s Magic Potion Parade the next year became Rally the Valley, which in recent years has included a 25-mile bike ride, 4-mile walk and 1.5-mile parade.

This year: Because of the Grand Avenue bridge detour, only a 1.7-mile parade will be held.

A.J. Adams didn’t expect to need the services of Calaway-Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital. And really, what teenager does? But when his mother, Catherine, was diagnosed with breast cancer, A.J. and his sisters were thrown into a new experience.

“I was kind of shook, I guess,” A.J. said. “I didn’t really know what to think at the time.”

His mother’s diagnosis progressed from a questionable mammogram to invasive cancer to lymph node surgery.

“Every time I told them something, it was like, ‘She’s telling me it’s OK and then she’s telling me a different story every time she goes in,’ ” Catherine recalled. “What the heck is going on?”

But A.J. and his sisters found an unexpected source of comfort — the center itself. Social worker Kate Klos offered A.J. a tour of the facility, including the machines that would administer his mother’s radiation.

“She showed me the library, talked to me about the steps that we’re going through and what they’re going to do and how short the radiation was going to be,” A.J. said. “And then she showed me the cafeteria.”

“A.J. likes to eat a lot,” Catherine said. “I think Kate won his heart over when she bought him lunch.”

That offered Catherine comfort, as well. Telling her children was the hardest part of her cancer journey, she said.

“It’s not just you that has the cancer, it’s your whole family,” she said. “They were scared, they were ticked off, they just didn’t know what to feel.”

While Catherine navigated her own emotions, though, the staff helped guide her children. In addition to Klos’ support, her children were able to meet the oncologist and gain deeper understanding of what their mother faced.

Now, with his mother’s treatment behind them, A.J. hopes to support the hospital that supported his family. The 16-year-old basketball player has formed a team for Rally the Valley, the center’s sixth-annual fundraiser. It raises money for a number of the center’s complimentary services: acupuncture, massage, support groups and emergency assistance, among others.

This integrated therapy approach helps cancer patients feel the best they’re able, even in the middle of treatment. A.J. hopes to raise $5,000 through his team, GWS ballers.

“The community helps out my basketball program so much, so I thought it’d be a good idea to give back to the community what they’ve given to us,” he said.

A.J. has contacted his teammates and other teams to encourage them to step out in support for Rally the Valley. Catherine sees it both as a chance to raise money for an important cause and a growth opportunity for her son.

“There are things you can really learn by setting up a rally team and being part of the community. This is real life. This is how we can support people,” she said.

A.J. hopes to pursue basketball professionally, and the family often discusses how professional athletes can use their influence for good. Catherine points to the LeBron James Family Foundation as an example.

“It’s always good to step up for a cause you believe in.”

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