Be A Part of the Cure Walk Sets Attendance, Fundraising Records

By Marty Trieschmann

“Research is the way we find new treatments and cures, and that’s why this event and the work being done in our laboratories at the Cancer Institute are so important,” said Patterson. “As someone who has been involved with research myself and as chancellor of UAMS, it’s very gratifying to have state and local leaders who support cancer research and better treatments for Arkansans. They aren’t just talking the talk. Today, they are literally walking the walk.”

Emcee and Fox 16 News anchor Donna Terrell, City Director Kathy Webb and Cancer Institute Director Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., took to the stage to welcome the crowd. State Reps. Denise Jones Ennett and Ashley Hudson were also in attendance.

Event co-chairs Elizabeth Birrer and Rebecca Tackett, the wives of Cancer Institute Director Michael Birrer and deputy director Alan Tackett, Ph.D., teamed up to organize the event this year. Elizabeth Birrer has chaired the event since its inception in 2021. The two orchestrated the huge event with a small but dedicated team of volunteers.

“Event day is hectic and starts at 4:30 a.m., but it’s always worth it,” said Elizabeth Birrer. “It’s pure joy to see all the walkers, volunteers and community together. Their smiles say it all.”

Nine months of event planning paid off with a record turnout of walkers and volunteers and $350,000 raised, exceeding last year’s fundraising by more than $100,000. More than 60 sponsors supported the event.

Returning as the top fundraisers, “Team Betsy Loves UAMS” led by colon cancer survivor Betsy Lavender raised the most as an individual,  more than $18,000 from 150 small individual donations. The top team, Dillard’s Stepping on Cancer, raised $17,745.

“People have been so generous this year,” said Michael Birrer. “Our sponsors have been so supportive and really get what this event is about. It’s about bringing the cancer community together — patients, survivors, caregivers and friends.”

“It’s always great to see everyone enjoying themselves, taking pictures of their group or selfies and having cheer groups celebrating them as they walk, especially as they come through the finish line. All the enthusiasm and excitement are contagious. It touches your heart when they tell their personal stories,” said Elizabeth Birrer.

Like Jeff DeSoto who lost his mother to cancer four years ago. “I attended the Be A Part of the Cure Walk in memory of my mother who died of cervical cancer in 2019. Arkansas, through the work @uamscancer, is making strides toward preventing cancer from being an automatic death sentence. Thank you to all who participated today!”

UAMS Clinical Research Nurse Susan Smith Dodson participated in the walk for the second year, walking in memory of her dad who died of cancer in 2020. Originally from Missouri, her family travels to Little Rock for the walk each year and is easy to spot in red and yellow Kansas City Chiefs gear.

“We have all been Chiefs fans since long before it was popular to be a Chiefs fan! I pitched a few ideas to my family, and we decided to name our team KAN U C A CURE.”

Paula Kerr, a teacher at Ridge Road Elementary in North Little Rock, led the Big D’s Warriors team in honor of Dimitri Thibodaux, a former student who battling cancer. “His family is very close to our school community, and we wanted to honor him,” said Kerr.

The UAMS community turned out in full force with teams from the Departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Pathology, the Office of Health Initiatives and Disparities Research and the Institute of Digital Health Innovation. Other UAMS teams included Institutional Advancement, UAMS South Regional Campus in Magnolia, UAMS Graduate School, Translational Research Institute, Tackett Laboratory, Cancer Clinical Trials, Cancer Leadership, Cancer Envoys and Cancer Volunteer Services and Auxiliary.

Nukhet Aykin-Burns, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy and a Cancer Institute member, turned out for the walk and took to Twitter to share her excitement. “It was great to join colleagues and friends and be a part of the cure today,” she said.

“A great way to spend a Saturday morning for a good cause with friends and colleagues,” said Konstantinos Arnaoutakis, M.D., UAMS medical oncologist, in a tweet with Matthew Steliga, M.D., and Sanjay Maraboyina, M.D.  Maraboyina, a radiation oncologist, walked as a member of the Proton Power Walkers representing the Proton Center of Arkansas that will open at UAMS in the fall 2023.

Plans are already underway for the Fourth Annual Be A Part of the Cure Walk scheduled for May 4, 2024. View event photos here.