September is a meaningful month for Terry and Cynthia Cermak. It's when their 12-year-old son, Henry, died of brain cancer almost two years ago. It's also National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
In honor of Henry and other children with brain tumors, the Hilton Head Island couple will participate in the 12th annual William's Walk & Run on Saturday in Alpharetta, Ga. The one-mile walk, 5K run and 10K road race qualifier -- named after 1-year-old William Nichols, who died from a brain tumor in 1998 -- will benefit the Brain Tumor Foundation For Children, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance, support and information for families affected by brain and spinal cord tumors. The group also pays for research projects to find cures and improve treatment options.
"We could not have gotten the treatment and gone everywhere we went without the help of foundations like the Brain Tumor Foundation," Cynthia said.
After Henry was diagnosed in 2006 with a rare type of brain tumor, Cynthia quit her job to focus on taking care of him. The lowered household income combined with piles of medical bills added a huge strain to the family already burdened with a devastating prognosis.
Terry said even with health insurance, the out-of-pocket expenses were astronomical.
But through the generosity of the foundation in addition to friends, family and the local community, the Cermaks were able to get Henry the treatment he needed.
"Everybody around here just stepped up to the plate," Cynthia said. "It's amazing."
The Cermaks continue to honor Henry's memory by helping others suffering from cancer. The family decorated white paper luminaries for Relay For Life in May. They went to Memphis in June to attend St. Jude's Day of Remembrance. And most recently, they made a trip to Aiken for a picnic fundraiser Aug. 29 for Carley's Rays of Hope Memorial Fund, a South Carolina extension of the Brain Tumor Foundation. The group is named after Aiken resident Carley Rae McMaster, who passed away in December 2008 after a three-year battle with ependymoma, the same type of brain tumor Henry had.
"This is why we are going and doing Carley's Rays of Hope and William's Walk -- to do what we can to help families that are struggling with watching a child in pain and fighting to get back to normal," Cynthia said.
The Cermaks look forward to meeting some of the people from the foundation who helped them through the hardest days of their lives. They will join 19 friends and family members coming from Florida, Georgia and Alabama to walk in memory of Henry. So far, the team has raised more than $2,000 for the event.
The Cermaks named their team "Henry's 1-Ups," inspired by their son's love for everything Nintendo. In many video games, collecting a 1-up gives the player an extra life.
"Hopefully by being on this team and helping to raise funds, we can come up with some 1-ups for some other kids," Terry said.