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Family launches fundraising run/walk to benefit pediatric cancer patients

The mother and child endured the kind of day that has become all too familiar to families forced to face the challenges of pediatric cancer.

First, they drove to St. Petersburg so doctors could give the young girl radiation treatments. Then they traveled back across the bridge to Tampa for chemotherapy.

"I had been gone all day and was exhausted," the mother wrote in a note. "I opened your letter and was moved to tears. I cannot say in words how grateful we are for the gift cards.

"I also look forward to the scriptures and the stories. I definitely look forward to connecting with others who have gone through this journey."

Such messages help fuel Sherry Tucker's drive as she lends comfort to parents dealing with a child diagnosed with cancer.

Tucker heads up the Giving Hope Through Faith Foundation, which provides gift cards and spiritual encouragement to pediatric cancer families.

The outreach resonates in a meaningful way for the recipients because Tucker, her husband, Dirk, and daughter Lexi, know the trials and tribulations that come with this difficult challenge.

In July 2005, just days before his eighth birthday, doctors diagnosed Sherry and Dirk's son Zach with cancer. They identified a tumor on Zach's brain as glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer more often found in adults.

At the time, the Tuckers called it a mouthful of distasteful evil.

"Both of us just prayed 'Let it be one of us instead of him,' " Sherry said. "I think that's the prayer of every parent who hears, 'Your child has cancer.' The emotions become a lot more raw and a lot more real and a lot more intense.

"As you go through it, everything is magnified because all of a sudden you're standing at that line where it's life or death."

Zach ultimately lost his battle in May of 2006, but his plight became what family friend Joe Brus called a "holy vortex." His bravery and strength inspired the Tuckers, their friends and their church family at the Crossing. People rallied behind them, lending support through meals, emotional support and love.

Through it all, Christian faith sustained the Tuckers. Sherry and Dirk drew on each other's strengths. She quit her accounting job to become Zach's caregiver, while Dirk continued to work to help the family deal with the financial burden.

They eventually concluded a bigger purpose came with their experience.

"We were given so much through the journey we took, that we needed to turn it around and give something back," Sherry Tucker said. "It was just a heavy thing on my heart.

"We had to do more for these families because I knew what they were going through."

Social workers from Tampa's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital and St. Petersburg's All-Children's Hospital refer families to the Giving Hope Through Faith Foundation regardless of income. Tucker says treatment costs can devastate even the wealthy.

For 12 consecutive months, the foundation sends the families packages, each containing gift cards from stores and restaurants and spiritual guidance written by Tucker, who authored the book Unfinished Love Walking By Faith Through Pediatric Cancer.

The idea of gift cards came from the first Christmas the family spent without Zach. To fill his empty stocking hanging in the home, Tucker asked friends to give gift cards she could donate to other pediatric cancer families.

They received more than $4,000 in donations.

Tucker's advice covers topics such as worry and fear, hope, doubt and anger, and each comes with Scriptures from the Bible.

But the foundation doesn't discriminate based on religion. Tucker said the effort includes a mother who is atheist.

"We've had a lot of interesting conversations, but I feel that's okay," Tucker said. "Whatever a person's belief system is, that's their right. All we're trying to do is bring a perspective that we feel helped us get through.

"If they draw some encouragement from it in some way, we've done what we're supposed to do."

On Oct. 30, the foundation will hold the inaugural Zach Tucker Memorial 5K run and walk at Lithia Springs Elementary, Zach's old school. Runners will cover a course through River Hills, some wearing Halloween costumes.

It'll be the kind of event Zach would have loved.

"By doing all of this, it kind of helps me keep a piece of him here," Tucker said. "Sharing his wonderful spirit and what a great kid he was, I don't want to lose that. And through this, we get to share our faith and I think that's so important.

"It's all through God's strength."

That's all I'm saying.

. If you go

Zach Tucker Memorial 5K

Oct. 30, 8 a.m.

Lithia Springs Elementary, 4332 Lynx Paw Trail, Valrico

$20 preregistration, $25 day of race

Family launches fundraising run/walk to benefit pediatric cancer patients 10/14/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:48pm]
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