LUMBERTON — Maria Parker’s passion for the war against brain cancer has not faded since the death of her sister.
After Jenny’s diagnosis of brain cancer, her younger sister turned her grief into action by raising money through her foundation, 3,000 Miles to a Cure. In 2013, her passion went into high gear as she rode a bicycle 3,000 miles across American in the annual Race Across America — and raised $70,000.
With a goal of raising $1 million, Maria has not reached the finish line yet. She and her husband, Jim, left this week for Oceanside, Calif., to once again Race Across America and garner donations for the foundation.
“We like this race because it’s so difficult,” she said. “We’ve had riders doing it every year since 2013 to raise money for the foundation.”
For RAAM 2017, the Parkers will be joined by Larry Oslund, of Hendersonville, and Kevin Gambill of Louisville, Ky., in racing recumbent Cruzbikes as a team. They will race, one rider at a time, day and night.
The race is exactly 3,070 miles from coast to coast, with the finish line in Annapolis, Md., Jim Parker said. Jim, a radiologist with Lumberton Radiological Associates, estimates the team will finish in six days and set at least one age group record.
A second, younger team, 4 Dudes, also will race for a cure. The Parkers have a way of getting people involved with the cause.
“They found out about it and joined in,” Maria said. “They’re wonderful guys and have raised a lot of money for the cause.”
Each team’s goal is to raise $50,000, which would add $100,000 or more to the $300,000 that had been donated to date to 3000 Miles to a Cure.
Maria’s 2013 race was a 12-day adventure in exhaustion and near disaster. Despite having their support van full of Parker children, supporters and bikes wrecked in an accident, Maria, after being idled for a day, still found a way to go on and win the women’s division in record fashion.
For this year’s race, two of their grown children, Lucia and Will, will be in the van with Carly Redfearn. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation will be an issue for the team along the grueling course that rises to 10,000 feet above sea level in Colorado.
“When I get tired, I keep in mind the people who are living with brain cancer and have died from it,” Maria said.
“One thing about people who have brain cancer is they do not live long, unlike some other cancers,” Jim said. “Brain cancer is No. 1 in YPLL (years of productive life lost), because it affects a lot of young people.”
This year, an estimated 69,720 cases of primary brain tumors will be diagnosed. Three of every four will die within months. About 4,300 children younger than 20 will be diagnosed. Brain cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths in children.
Maria’s sister was 52 when she died. She left behind five children and a husband.
“We were very close, only 10 months apart in age,” Maria said. “I was devastated. I wanted to do something.”
She has found a formidable enemy in brain cancer, in part, because research is underfunded, she said.
“We are turning hope into action,” Maria said.
Scott Bigelow is a staff writer for The Robesonian in Lumberton.