On July 13, 2012 my Aunt Vern died of breast cancer at the age of 51.
My aunt was first diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2002. At that time, many doctors said she had only a few months to live. But, Aunt Vern was determined to prove them wrong, and that is exactly what she did.
Over those 10 years, her cancer would go into remission for a while, but it always came back.
SJNRA senior Janaya Daniele is shown at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
Even though she was going through extensive chemo therapy during that time, she never let it stop her.
Aunt Vern attended every sporting event, dance recital and performance that my cousins and I had and she never once complained about what she was going through.
The cancer had spread to Aunt Vern's liver, and in the summer of 2012, her liver started to fail. She was too weak to undergo any chemo therapy and without it, there was no way to stop the tumor.
She had made peace with what was happening to her. The hospital placed Aunt Vern in hospice care, sending her to my grandmother's house. Two hours after she arrived at the house, she passed away.
It was then that my whole world turned upside down. I had never experienced the death of a family member that I was close to and it tore me apart on the inside. I wanted to do something to show her that I loved her but I couldn't figure out what to do.
Then I got the information on my required senior project at St. John Neumann Regional Academy. When I was trying to figure out what I was going to do for the senior project, I saw an advertisement for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.
The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is held in cities around the country. The walk consists of 40 miles on two days and all of the money from the race goes to funding breast cancer research.
I knew that I wanted to do the race the moment I saw the advertisement. It seemed to be the perfect way to honor my aunt's memory and it would make a great senior project.
So, without any hesitation, I signed up for the race in New York City. My Aunt Maria started training me for it and in the beginning it was torture!
For the first few weeks, I had pain in my feet and legs after the first mile and there were some times when I thought I wouldn't be able to pull it off. After a walk, as I tended to the blisters on my feet, I remembered the pain my aunt suffered and realized that it was a small discomfort compared to what she went through.
In order to participate in the race I had to raise a minimum of $1,800. My first fundraiser was a letter writing campaign. Donations came in slowly and I realized that I needed to supplement it with another fundraiser.
I am a member of the Uptown Music Collective, a non-profit music school located in town, and I decided to talk to the owner, Dave Brumbaugh, about doing a benefit show to help raise money for the walk.
He agreed instantly and gave me the job of directing a show. It took weeks of meetings and hours of decision making on my part, but eventually we started practicing.
The benefit show, "Saturday Night's Alright: A Concert for the Cure" took place on Oct. 12 at the Community Arts Center and was a huge success.
Between the letter writing campaign and the Uptown show, I collected more than $10,000 for the Avon Breast Walk!
Months of preparation came to a successful end as I completed the 40 mile race in New York. It was a great accomplishment and the perfect way to honor my Aunt Vern, a very special woman in my life.