The Stand Firm Warrior Foundation, which Denver resident Michelle Love formed to help support pediatric cancer research and awareness after the death of her son, BJ Correll, from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, continues to march forth. The second annual March Forth 5k and 15K run/walk will benefit the foundation and will take place in Denver this Saturday.
It was a fluke of fate that the inaugural race came about. A neighbor of family, Beth Joy, came by to visit Love after BJ’s death to talk about organizing a 15K race in the Denver area. In general, races are run for a cause and Joy was looking for a worthy cause for this 15K race.
“BJ had turned 15 right before he passed and Beth thought that it was God telling her this is your reason, your cause,” Love said. “It’s funny because Beth’s initials are ‘BJ’ and her middle name is Michelle. It’s kind of weird. We realized all that later.”
The first race was run on what would have been BJ’s 16th birthday, March 4. It’s on March 3 this year to keep it on a Saturday. Joy never met BJ, they just lived in the same neighborhood. Once she learned of BJ’s battle with cancer, she knew this was the ideal cause for the race she was trying to organize in Denver.
“We treated the race like a birthday celebration too,” Love said. “Last year we had 212 participants, it seemed like half of Denver was out watching the race and cheering everybody on.”
Gold is the color of childhood cancer the foundation sponsors “gold” athletic games at North Lincoln High School, where BJ was to attend school. In addition, Denver-area students stepped up to assist the foundation with making handmade snowflakes and cards to send to children in the hospital during the Christmas season.
“Everything that we’ve done to date has been way bigger than I imagined it,” Love said. “BJ was bigger than life and he continues to live on in this foundation. He’s with me all the time and always on my mind. From what people have told me here and there, it’s the same for them too.”
In order to deal with what is still a relatively new loss, Love tries to stay busy in order to keep her grief at bay, but sometimes it catches up with her.
“When I crash, it usually takes two or three days to get out of that hole,” she said. “Last week was hard because it was the two-year anniversary from when BJ was let go from the hospital to come home in hospice. That marked the next 15 days that he was here. We still had so much hope and the memories are wonderful but they’re also really hard.”
For three and a half years, BJ was a warrior and fought Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which is considered to be one of the most curable forms of cancer. Despite being in treatment, he continued to train and play the sports he loved so much. When his cancer returned, he underwent an experimental trial, CAR T-cell therapy, at Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham. This was a very difficult experience for BJ and his family to go through and it wasn’t successful. BJ was sent home in February, 2016 after his oncologist said that there was really nothing else they could do except palliative treatment. He died two days after his 15th birthday.
Love is focusing her efforts at the schools because she wants children to be more aware of cancer because so many of them have been touched by the disease. She still hopes that Lincoln County will proclaim September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
“They’re the ones that are going to find the cure,” she said. “They’re the ones that are going to make the difference. I feel like I’m just a ripple in the pond creating a little irritation for people to think about it because I never thought about it until it hit me.”
March Forth 5k and 15k run/walk is scheduled for March 3 at 7:30 a.m. at 2100 Highway 16 North in Denver. There will be a pancake breakfast for all runners. All proceeds benefit the Stand Firm Warrior Foundation. Same day registration is from 6:30-7:15 a.m.
For more information, visit the Stand Firm Warrior website at http://standfirmwarrior.org.