Nicole and Unc on one of their many runs together.
By Nicole Nelson
As I stood with the microphone in my hands, about to welcome the crowd, I quickly realized that this sea of people I was addressing has the same love and admiration for my uncle as I do.
My Uncle Donnie (or “Unc” as I call him), a Long Island native, found his home in the Binghamton, New York area as a young teen. It was there he married, raised a family and watched his father fight a difficult six month battle with small cell lung cancer 16 years ago. As I welcomed a crowd of over 400 to his recent benefit, I was truly humbled by this small town’s reaction to Unc’s diagnosis last October of stage 4 small cell lung cancer.
The diversity of the crowd at the benefit was also a testament to the character that is my uncle. From the nuns and other members of the parish he donates his time and efforts to; to the crowd of IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) brothers, where he has been a long time member of Local 325; to the Harley guys and fellow runners and to the family members we all added to the organized chaos.
It’s almost as though Unc has lived many lives in his 53 years on this planet. His many and varying interests and hobbies have allowed his light to touch the lives of so many, as evident by the event. His ‘health overhaul’ (8 or so years ago) is what has most inspired me. A healthy diet and increased exercise soon had him, a man who once could barely walk due to back surgeries, participating in a local triathlon. He brought life to the thought that “you don’t always have to be who you were.”
Unc and Nicole at the start of their annual Thanksgiving day race.
Four years ago I fed off this determination, and found some of my own, following his lead and transforming my lifestyle. Soon we were running my first 8K race together, in 18 degree weather, to help raise money for a local food pantry. A year and a half later Mother Nature provided a 98 degree day and another chance to run with Unc in a charity race. It was that stifling July day, when trying to match his pace left me sick and gasping for air, when he said such simple words that gave me strength.
“Just breathe, Nic…just breathe”
So now I plan to continue his giving spirit, and his healthy lifestyle, by presenting the Just Breathe Virtual 5K/10K in his honor. The virtual run allows anyone and everyone, no matter where they are, to participate and offer support to Unc and all those fighting this battle. All registration proceeds benefit Lung Cancer Alliance, an organization that has already helped our family in so many ways and will no doubt continue that trend. Also, in keeping with our love of extremes, when the race hits its first 200 registrants, I will be shaving my head in honor of all those who continue to battle this horrendous disease.
It was at his benefit, surrounded by twice as many people as expected, and twice the love, that I saw just how far reaching Unc’s light shines. He may not have had the ability to attend the event, fighting yet another infection, but his presence was felt by all those who were there. While every day is a new struggle, it is the future that Unc looks forward to the most. Spending time with his five granddaughters, the run in April, and most importantly the birth of his first grandson in June. May his own words give him the strength to do so.
Just breathe, Unc…just breathe.
Learn more about the Just Breathe Virtual 5K/10K on April 9th and how to get involved in the fight against lung cancer today!