When Caroline Lee was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer at age 46, she struggled with whether to tell her friends. As it turned out, telling them was one of the best decisions she ever made.
The support she received inspired her to create an organization that focuses on providing non-medical support to cancer patients. She named the organization Wipeout Cancer, a nod to 2010 obstacle-course game show she won.
Lee is an avid volleyball player, and the year she was diagnosed her teammates went out of their way to accommodate her when it came to playing. Then she got diagnosed and had to back out of volleyball.
“I felt really compelled to share what was going on,” she said. “I realized that it was through family and friends that [sic] helped me to the road to recovery.”
Wipeout Cancer held its fourth annual Sports Day Saturday at Cabrillo Middle School. The organization, now a nonprofit, originally set a five-year, $50,000 goal. The timeframe was an homage to the average survival rate for cancer patients. However, with its goal met after three years, the organizers decided to continue to effort.
The events featured several volleyball games an obstacle course for kids — course that Lee and American Ninja Warrior contestant David Campbell took on together at one point — and bike riding.
“The idea is to get out, have a good time and connect with people,” Lee said.
The first three years the money the event raised went directly to Cancer CAREpoint. Now that Wipeout Cancer has nonprofit status and is starting to provide some services of its own, the groups split the money, which Lee said has been averaging about $20,000 a year.
Dawn Hogh, director of developing and marketing for Cancer CAREpoint, said partnering with Wipeout Cancer helps inform people of all the services her organization provides including nutritional and exercise support, yoga, meditation and even a wig bank.
“The individual is much more than the medical diagnosis,” Hogh said. “Cancer is a financial hardship. Poor families can have to choose between eating and medicine.”
In addition to Campbell, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo turned out to show his support. The event also featured a tribute wall where people could write their thoughts about how cancer has affected them.
Julie Caperton, 26, of Berkley, said she came out to support a friend who was competing on one of the 80 volleyball teams.
“It is easy to get complacent with cancer,” she said. “It is good to recognize that it is not normal.”
Pete Tseng, 45, of San Jose, said he knows Lee, or “Liner” as her friends call her, through volleyball. He has brought his 7-year-old daughter Jacey, who he said loves the obstacle course, every year. Not only is it a way to allow his daughter to have fun while exercising, it helps cement a lesson about charity he has helped instill into her even at a young age.
Some volunteers wore red T-Shirts indicating they are part of what Lee called the “core team.” Others like Kathleen Magy, 26, of San Francisco, wore blue T-Shirts indicating they were new volunteers. In Magy’s case, this was her second year volunteering.
Magy said she works with Lee at LinkedIn and that Sports Day impacts a lot of people, providing a sense of community.
“It is pretty inspirational,” she said. “She turned something so negative into something so positive … it feels like a big family.”
Magy said she will definitely volunteer again next year.
To support Wipeout Cancer, visit wipeout-cancer.org or visit their Facebook page.