As someone who has been involved with the Maine Children’s Cancer Walk for the past 18 years, I have had the good fortune to meet and see many wonderful children, their families and a number of volunteers over the years. Their attitudes, spirit and commitment is an inspiration to everyone and reminds everyone why we walk.
For all of those 18 years, one volunteer has been a constant. His name is Jim Puckett and he is truly an original, having been involved with the walk since its inception in 1986, and serving as chairman of the walk for most of that time. Over the years, Jim, who for many years lived in Portland and now resides in South Portland, has recounted many times that the early years of the walk included only a handful of people getting together to try and make a difference. And make a difference they have because in its 23-year history the walk has raised nearly $1.5 million to help children with cancer and their families.
And Jim has been there, literally, every step of the way. Jim has not only been a leader, but also a friend.
Now, the leader and friend to volunteers and walkers alike is facing his own battle with the disease he has worked so many years raising funds to fight. Last year, Jim was diagnosed with cancer. The irony is lost on no one.
When the 23rd Annual Maine Children’s Cancer Walk takes place on Sept. 19, at Payson Park in Portland and at six other locations in southern and central Maine, many in the crowd of walkers will have no idea that one of the principal organizers of the event has himself become a cancer patient. If you asked Jim, he will always bring the conversation back to the children and their families and put the attention on the need to help them. Though Jim’s childhood has long since passed, he remains a kid at heart, volunteering thousands of hours to help children with cancer have a childhood and beyond. His passion and enthusiasm are contagious.
The Maine Children’s Cancer Program is a comprehensive program that not only seeks to cure the child of cancer, but the entire family. What people so often forget is that cancer does not only strike a child, but affects siblings and parents. Every family has access to the psychosocial services at MCCP, including social workers, workshops and other support services that combine to make MCCP a special place. Imagine the piece of mind knowing that MCCP’s staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and for life, if needed. The contributions raised through the walk insure that these services can be offered to every child and every family.
In the past 15 years, the cure rate for childhood cancer has increased 25 percent to a present cure rate of 70 percent. With the support of the community in raising funds and awareness about the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and what it provides for the children and families of Maine, this rate will continue to rise and there will be a day when all children can be cured.
I hope you will be a part of this year’s walk by raising funds and/or contributing to the effort. The walk starts at 9 a.m., with registration starting at 8 a.m., on Saturday, Sept. 19 at Payson Park in Portland, as well as in Augusta, Lewiston/Auburn, Rumford, Sanford, Topsham/Brunswick and Waterville. To register for any walk, as an individual walker, a team or to make a donation, visit mmc.org/mccp, or call 662-6274.
For me, Jim’s diagnosis is a reminder of the fragility of life, whether you are an infant or middle-aged. Cancer is cancer. When Jim helps to welcome walkers to the Portland walk, he will be one of many volunteers working for the cause. This year, however, I might look at him a bit differently, not because he has cancer, but because he is still as passionate about making a difference to children with cancer and their families as he was 23 years ago at the first walk.
It doesn’t get much more personal than that.
Jon Paradise is communications chairman of the Maine Children’s Cancer Program’s Annual Walk. He is a member of the Maine Children’s Cancer Program board and has been involved with the program for 18 years. He lives in Portland with his wife, Kathi, and their three children.