Team Warila Walks for a Cure

Published in the April 23, 2008 issue of The Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster


Dan Warila hates to walk. You would too, if your leg had been ravaged by cancer, by chemo and by umpteen surgeries, if your kneecap was supported by metal rods instead of bone.

He also doesn't like to talk about having cancer. In remission for more than two years, his life is about other things now—college, work, girlfriend. Just like any other teenager.

And yet, the first weekend in May, the Stow native will fly home from Philadelphia to join family, friends, and other cancer survivors in walking—yes, walking—more than six miles to raise money for sarcoma research. May 3 will mark the fourth incarnation of the 12,402 Steps to Cure Sarcoma Walk in Hudson, and Warila hasn't missed one yet.

He walks for his mother, Karyn, who is as passionate about the cause as her son is reticent, who every year brings new recruits to Team Warila (which had 65 members at last year's event) and outfits them all in color-coded t-shirts. He walks for his girlfriend, fellow 2007 Nashoba Regional graduate Chelsea Newton, who a year ago convinced a cadre of their classmates to join the team as well.

But he also walks for other patients, the ones who maybe aren't as strong as he is, who have even more of their lives still ahead of them.

“When I was going through the experience and basically living in the hospital, the only thing that was really hard about it was seeing the little kids going through it,” he said. “Those are the ones you feel bad for. I'd say I do the walk because of them.”

The walk, which begins and ends on the track at Hudson High School, is the flagship fundraiser for the Jennifer Hunter Yates Sarcoma Foundation. The foundation was created in memory of a Hudson resident (and a family friend of the Warilas) who died in April 2004 following a 17-month battle with two types of sarcoma. Through Yates' experience, her family and friends became all too aware of the lack of resources available for the study of these rare types of cancer, and were compelled to do what they could to help.

“Sarcoma research gets hardly any money from the federal government because it's so rare,” said foundation organizer Susan Erickson, who is Yates' sister. “Ironically, it doesn't kill enough people.”

Osteosarcoma (in the bones and joints), which both Yates and Warila had in common, affects one in 100,000 people, as many of them children as adults, according to the National Cancer Institute. The incidence rate for soft tissue sarcoma ( in fat, muscles, blood vessels, or nerves) is about the same for individuals under the age of 20, but is diagnosed almost seven times more frequently in adults. By comparison, the incidence rate for all types of cancer is 467.4 per 100,000.

When sarcoma is diagnosed early, survival rates are quite high; more than 80% of those with localized tumors are alive 10 years later. But because the symptoms tend to mimic those of other conditions, such as tendinitis or disc disease, patients like Yates often remain undiagnosed until the disease has become advanced. That's why a portion of all funds raised through the Sarcoma Walk is invested in education, Erickson said.

“This year we're going to push for education of primary care doctors and emergency room doctors, because that's who these patients end up seeing first,” she said.

The money raised—more than $300,000 in the first three years—also supports clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital and provides assistance for the families of patients, many of whom have to travel long distances for treatment. Erickson hopes to raise another $150,000 this year.

Registration for the walk will begin at 9 am on May 3, with the event officially starting at 10 am. Advance registration is not required, and there is no entrance fee, although anyone who raises $100 in pledges receives a commemorative t-shirt. Walkers can choose the six-mile course (one step for each day that Yates lived) or an alternate three-mile route, after which they can enjoy refreshments and family-friendly entertainment back at the football field.

Depending on the weather, Erickson expects as many as 400 participants. Some will be walking in her sister's memory. Others will come from as all over New England to honor their own loved ones, both victims and survivors.

The kid from Stow who hates walking will be there too, right up front with the other survivors in their bright yellow t-shirts. And he'll have an entire team of friends and family behind him.

“My whole walk is for my son,” Karyn Warila said. “We're truly blessed with an amazing kid.”

For more information about the 12,402 Steps to Cure Sarcoma Walk or to make a donation, visit www.jenniferhunteryatessarcomafoundation.org or contact Susan Erickson at 978/371-7351 or sarcomasteps@yahoo.com.


Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239