Southampton, MA—October 8, 2009—“It does not matter how or when you die. The only question is, did you really live?” These words, by the late Dr. Jerri Lin FitzGerald, defined the success and palpable enthusiasm among participants who united October 3 at Twin Orchard Farm in Southampton, Massachusetts, for the inaugural Canter Against Cancer benefit trail ride and pig roast to support the medical scholarship launched in the physician’s name by the University of Toledo Foundation. Gaining national attention in 1999 for treating her own breast cancer while stationed at a South Pole research center, FitzGerald authored (under her then-married name, Nielsen), the book, Icebound, about her ordeal, before metastatic brain cancer overtook her in June 2009.
AHP members L.A. Pomeroy and Claudia Sarti, friends of the doctor and her husband, Tom FitzGerald, developed the idea for a benefit ride in her memory with the help of the Western Massachusetts Public Health Association and Charles Kaniecki, owner of the 140-acre Twin Orchard Farm that hosted the event. Also supporting the cause was Rotary International, whose Southwick (MA) chapter generously provided volunteers.
Jerri was immensely touched by her alma mater starting a scholarship in her name. With all that she accomplished in life – as a physician, cancer warrior, and ambassador for cancer awareness, including speaking at the White House – she saw this scholarship was one of her crowning achievements,” said Pomeroy and Sarti.
Inspired by her story, University of Toledo medical students Brooke Johnson and Andrew Nyberg created the scholarship in honor of their mentor. “We were trying to find a way where everyone benefits,” said Johnson. The scholarship will help graduates start medical careers in Emergency Room and/or Family Practice in the rural Ohio farming communities where its namesake grew up.
Scholarship co-founder, Andrew Nyberg, flew out from Toledo to attend as a guest speaker and representative of the university. Calling Dr. FitzGerald his “hero” and “a woman of extraordinary courage and drive,” Nyberg spoke about the importance of dedicated health care and how the scholarship will aid students in realizing their dreams of becoming doctors.
Despite inclement weather, Canter Against Cancer raised $1,700, securing, Nyberg said, the scholarship’s endowment. Donations will continue to be welcome through the University of Toledo Foundation (a 501(c)3 non-profit organization), at 2801 West Bancroft Driscoll Center, Toledo, Ohio 43606, through the website https://utssl.u toledo.edu/utfoundation/giftproc.asp, or by contacting Howard B. Newman, J.D., Associate Vice President for Development, at (419) 383-6840, or email@example.com.
“The first riders were John and Ellie Clower of Fowler, Ohio,” said Chris Lucas, of Amherst, Massachusetts, one of the core of volunteers that, as plans developed, were fondly dubbed, The J-Team (J for Jerri). “Ellie is a cancer survivor and warrior who has steadfastly refused to allow curveballs, such as cancer, slow her down. Their Freightliner trailer, with horses and living quarters in tow, pulled into the farm the night before, just in time to join volunteers around a cheery campfire where horse stories (often akin to fish stories) and jokes were swapped. We were honored by their presence and humbled by the distance they traveled for an event that clearly held personal meaning for them.”
“Rain or shine,” Lucas noted, “people rode out. I have never seen such grit and dedication to a cause. The more horse folk I meet, the more respect I have for their tenacity to ‘tough it out’ for a good cause.” Among the cancer survivors participating was 13 year-old Hayley Barrett, of West Granby, Connecticut, who was diagnosed with leukemia at age four. “She wanted to ride, to demonstrate that you never give up hope,” said her instructor, Becky Cahill. "Thank you so much for an amazing time. 20We’re looking forward to next year already.”
Dr. FitzGerald’s spirit was especially felt at the conclusion of the fund raising raffle, which featured nearly $4,000 in donations, including all-natural shampoos and foamers courtesy of breast cancer awareness supporter, eZall Technologies, and pink plaid saddle pads from SmartkPak/SmartPink, as well as signed art by Broadway Beatlemania star, Caspar McCloud, an Ariat belt, Outback Trading Company duster, Bitless Bridle ©, Bellestarr obsidian horse fetish earrings, Farm Family canvas chair, Julie Goodnight DVDs, Cavallo Simple Boots, Jo Bunny massages, hand-carved walking stick by Custom Carved Horses, Trail Rider Magazine gift certificates, equipment and gear from Stone Arbor Saddle Shop, and an 18” sterling silver lariat necklace with hand-done pink enameled ribbon charm, custom designed for Canter Against Cancer, by the Mark Lexton Collection of South Carolina.
After drawing for the necklace, there was not a dry eye at the farm. Sarti selected the name from an overflowing jar of tickets and announced its winner: Kathleen FitzGerald Williams. Williams had been Jerri’s sister-in-law, and was holding her hand when the physician drew her last breath. “I will remember this day forever,” said Williams, with tears in her eyes, “and will think of Jerri when I wear this necklace.”
“What were the odds that this Canter Against Cancer necklace should go to the woman at Jerri’s side when she passed?” asked Pomeroy. “We’d like to believe such an extraordinary ending meant we had earned Jerri’s ‘seal of approval.’” Mark Lexton Collection will donate 20 percent of future sales of the Canter Against Cancer necklace, also available in 14k and 18k gold, towards the scholarship. See www.MarkLexton.com.
As Sarti hoped, the event has also spurred more grassroots efforts. Linda Spurlock, of Yakima Valley Old Peoples’ Riding Club in Washington State, has sought permission to launch a Canter Against Cancer. “A friend forwarded an e-mail regarding the benefit ride that was very timely, because we were discussing having an event exactly like yours. Our club has been hit hard, with members and family diagnosed with cancer. It’s time to become involved in the fight to raise funds for a cure.”
Canter Against Cancer accessories are online, at www.cafepress.com/canteragainstcancer, and through its Facebook Causes page.