NEW PORT RICHEY — Kellie Aguilera watched Saturday as dozens of people took to the track at Gulf High School to support her fight against cancer.
"I'm not a very emotional person but there really are no words for seeing all these people come out and do something like this for me," said Aguilera, 46, who is battling cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Her daughter, Ashley Aguilera, organized the Cause for Kellie 5K to raise money for her mom and raise awareness about HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. About 50 people paid to run in the event, though not all of them made it to the track on Saturday.
Kellie Aguilera said she was "floored" by the response from the west Pasco community, where she has lived for 40 years.
"We've raised enough money to pay for my next 22 treatments," she said. "It's a much better feeling than the day they told me that the original cancer had spread. I'm getting positive reports back from my latest treatments so I've got a lot of hope."
HPV infections are common, affecting about half of all men and about three out of four women at some point in their lives, according to Planned Parenthood. Most HPV infections have no harmful effect and go away within eight to 13 months, and often people don't realize they were even infected.
But some types of HPV can cause cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer.
As she watched her mother facing her second bout of HPV-related cancer, Ashley Aguilera decided to organize the 5K to help. She lives in Montgomery, Ala., so she made many of the arrangements from afar.
"It was stressful trying to do all this from so far away, but thanks to the people from Gulf High and friends and family, we were able to do it," Ashley Aguilera said. "This is my first rodeo when it comes to organizing a 5K. Everyone around the community has been extremely willing to step in and help along the way and I needed it."
And ultimately the event raised enough money to pay for about seven weeks of Kellie Aguilera's treatments.
While raising money was important, Ashley Aguilera also wanted to raise awareness about HPV's range of effects.
"It's important because so many women are affected by HPV," she said. "There are hundreds of HPV viruses and girls 8 years old and up are getting vaccinated. A lot of people don't realize all the different ways someone can contract it.
"I did this so my mom can get more treatments, but if we can raise awareness for everybody then hopefully can affect the bigger picture."
Frequent 5K runner and first place finisher Jeff McMahon knew of HPV but was surprised to learn how many people have the virus.
"I love running 5Ks and this seemed to me like a good cause to come out and support," he said. "I've never known anyone personally that suffered from this, but because of this event I've done some research and have learned just how widespread it is."