Runway For Recovery: A Town Cares for Its Own
For my three siblings and I, growing up in Concord was idyllic. My parents loved raising their family in a small town and my mother, Cande, flung herself fully into the inner workings of it - joining boards of the Old Manse, the Concord Museum, The Fenn School and Nashoba Brooks School, and the CCHS Scholarship Fund. Into our teenage years, we were blissful beneficiaries of this close-knit town, but we’d soon find out just how important this community would become to our family.
For a decade, from 1991 to 2001, my mother battled breast cancer in private. She chose to tell only her husband and a select few friends. My siblings and I were completely insulated from her illness up until her very last week of life — she brought halftime snacks to my sisters’ afternoon game one day, and was in the hospital for the last time later that evening.
In those days, the breast cancer landscape was very different and there were far fewer people talking openly about their experience and sharing resources. By keeping her illness from us, my mom had made a selfless decision to attempt to preserve a “normal childhood.” It’s not a comfortable decision for everyone, but it was right for my mom, and it empowered each of us after her death to honor the gift of childhood in different ways.
For me, the best way to honor her was to find a way to shift the breast cancer experience for other families. In 2007, I gathered a few volunteers, taped some Christmas lights to the floor of Nashawtuc Country Club to form a “runway,” and asked those in my immediate community who were touched by breast cancer to come “model” with me as a testament to hope, courage, and tenacity in the face of the disease. The idea stuck, and over the next 13 years, “The Runway Show” rapidly outgrew venues across the Metro area, packing in crowds of 700+ to cheer on “models” who are survivors and families affected by breast cancer. In doing so, we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Unlike most other breast cancer-oriented nonprofits, we do not fund research, a cure, or treatment. It is our firm belief that there are things we can do, today, to radically shift the experience of families who are affected by breast cancer.
In 2019, I left a career in independent schools — having spent the majority of my career at Fenn and Middlesex - to work with Runway For Recovery (www.runwayforrecovery.org) full time, with the goal of narrowing our focus on the wellbeing of children after losing a parent. We took our grantmaking process in-house, and I’ve spent the past year visiting every cancer center, hospice, and social worker who will answer my calls to reach families who have lost a parent to breast cancer. Through a process guided by a team of social workers trained in palliative care and grief, we identify key activities and programs for each family that have been affected due to the death of their loved one — most often because of the loss of a second income — and grant funds directly toward those programs in order to restore routine and healing into their lives. In our first round of grant funding, we covered the costs of groceries and house cleaning, ensured kids would be able to participate in extracurricular activities or summer camp, and funded access to quality therapists and grief counseling.
Runway’s story is inextricably connected with Concord and with my mother. The second my mom passed, the town of Concord rallied around my family, and they are still doing so today. Every time we host a Runway show, half the town appears, donating auction items and offering corporate sponsorships.
This year, we’re especially excited to be hosting an event on May 29, 2020 called Love Local: Concord, to honor the town and bring the community together. We’ll feature pop-up shopping with local boutiques, wine, beer, and light bites. A short program will honor Erin Hackman’s family and raise money for families in need. Erin was a Runway model for two years, and the love and legacy that she left behind in Concord so very perfectly embody everything that we stand for here at Runway. Honoring her is small town living at its best, and we hope we can include you in celebrating the community that has seen us through it all.