It was a daunting goal, but it sounded so perfect — celebrate 20 cancer-free years with a 20-mile run to raise $20,000 for City of Hope.
“I loved the idea of a physical challenge to celebrate a healthy body, and a charitable challenge to really give back,” said Hester Joelson. “So I didn’t overthink it because that would have been overwhelming.”
The thing is, Joelson — who’d had the entire tibia bone in her left leg replaced after losing her own to cancer — had never completed a run that long and had never raised that kind of money in her life.
But like many cancers survivors, she was no stranger to tough challenges.
At 18, she had just started her freshman year at Boston University. She was making new friends, going to parties and enjoying classes, when a pain in her leg turned out to be Ewing sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer that occurs most frequently in children and teenagers.
Like many cancer journeys, hers was a physical and emotional rollercoaster — but she made it through thanks to City of Hope.
“I was being treated at Kaiser and became part of a study through City of Hope, where the protocol for Ewing sarcoma was developed,” she said. “That treatment plan saved my life.”
Joelson — who’s now married, has three children, and earned a master's degree in social work — is grateful for that life.
“I know what an incredible organization City of Hope is, and I felt it was really important to give back.”
To achieve that goal, she had to prepare on two fronts.
The first was getting in shape. She’d been a runner before cancer, but after treatment she hadn’t been able to. Then a couple of years ago, she started lifting weights at the gym and built up enough strength to start running with friends, eventually completing two half-marathons. Still, the 20-mile charity run was considerably longer, so she began training even harder.
The second was figuring out how to meet that formidable $20,000 goal.
She put posts up on social media, created a fundraising page and wrote the story of her battle with cancer so that people could understand what this effort meant to her.
“I just kept putting myself out there, being a nudge. And I struggled with 'Am I annoying people?' and 'Boy, this is so obnoxious,'” she said. “But in the end, I did something good for so many other people by raising this money.”
Joelson has actually exceeded her goal, raising more than $21,000 for City of Hope — and contributions are still coming in.
And if there’s another gift she’s given us, it’s this: When you think your goals are impossible — just stop thinking and take the first step.