Living with brain cancer for the past four years, Catherine Wreford Ledlow has decided to run for it.
Ledlow, 36, will run a five-kilometre race Sunday in the 2017 Winnipeg Police Service Half Marathon, Two-Person Relay and 5K Run to raise money for brain cancer research.
"I was given two to six years to live, and every dollar that is donated helps me have a chance to see my kids graduate, get married and maybe even meet my grandkids," Ledlow said.
The Winnipegger has increased her fundraising goal this year to $15,000 with the backing of Brain Canada, which is doubling each fundraising pledge for her run. Ledlow is the leading fundraiser so far for this year’s event and has already raised $10,000, with both Brain Canada and the Ventura Group doubling pledges.
Well-known in the arts community, Ledlow got her start as Liesl in the 1996 Rainbow Stage production of The Sound of Music. She moved to the United States for 15 years, where she was a singer and dancer in musical-theatre productions such as Annie Get Your Gun and Broadway productions of Oklahoma! and 42nd Street.
She then earned a degree in nursing, but is unable to work in that field after she had most of a cancerous tumour, larger than a fist, removed from her brain.
On June 24, 2013, Ledlow was diagnosed with an anaplastic astrocytoma, a Grade 3 brain tumour. That was five weeks after she and her husband, Joel, welcomed their daughter, Quinn, into the world. The couple also has a six-year-old son, Elliot. Surgery took place 11 days after diagnosis, but the tumour, attached to the part of the brain responsible for speech, could not be fully removed. Every three months, Ledlow has an MRI to check it.
"We call it ‘scanxiety week,’ waiting the week for the results," said Ledlow, who also had six weeks of radiation and numerous rounds of chemotherapy for more than a year after surgery.
Ledlow has never been one to sit around and wait for anything.
"You can choose to either be positive or you can go and cry. I’ve chosen to be positive. There just isn’t enough money to do research, and this kind of cancer is killing people," she said.
"Brain cancer is sort of a different species than any other kind of cancer. When you have brain cancer, you really have limited options and then they really don’t know what else to do. That’s why I’m trying to raise so much money for brain cancer research — so they’ll be able to do more, help more people and help us live longer and help us face this. Lots of people who get diagnosed are my age, and they have young kids, and it’s just terrible. Even people that are older, they just don’t have any options."
She said research has discovered genetic markers that are providing insight into possible new treatments such as vaccine clinical trials.
Last year, Ledlow and her friend Joanne Schiewe prepared for this run together. Scheiwe lost her battle with brain cancer (glioblastoma) on Aug. 29, 2016, and this year’s event is dedicated to Schiewe, who raised more than $80,000 for brain cancer research.
"It’s hard. I’m trying to be strong, I’m trying to be super positive, but sometimes it’s just a lot for me," Ledlow said. "Running the race this year without Jo — she was the same age as me, she lived down the street from me. I’m remembering her, and it’s hard to think about that and know that one day, just like she and her fiancé were told, there’s nothing more we can do. Someday, somebody is going to tell me that. I’m trying to raise money so other people and other families don’t have to go through this."
Statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society show brain cancer patients have a survival rate of just 25 per cent, and brain cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among children.
After a musical-theatre career that spanned nearly a decade, Ledlow was living in Los Angeles when she decided to go back to school. She was working part-time at an upscale restaurant while working toward her nursing degree at university when she met her husband, head of security for the restaurant. After their 2010 marriage, the couple moved to Joel’s hometown of Oklahoma City, where he opened a martial arts studio, they started their family and Ledlow finished her nursing degree.
The brain tumour diagnosis came after she found herself experiencing a series of horrible headaches.
The family moved to Winnipeg on June 24, 2014, one year to the day after her diagnosis, to be close to Ledlow’s sister and parents. They bought a house in the same neighbourhood as her mom and dad.
After her surgery, she was terrified she wouldn’t remember how to dance.
"I was trying to dance after surgery with all these things plugged into me, but I just had to," Ledlow said.
She said she has difficulty singing — sometimes the words just don’t come out the way she intends — but she has returned to musical theatre in Winnipeg as a dancer, teacher and performer.
"I just want to share my story so people will see that the best way to help is give money (to research) and be kind to everyone," she said. "Nobody knows what everybody else is going through."
This summer she will perform as a member of the ensemble cast in Rainbow Stage’s musical production of Mama Mia.
Ledlow’s fundraising page is at wfp.to/EGB.