March 9, 2011- When you look at it one way, Louise Butler has little to gain from organizing a fund-raising effort for cancer research at the University of Utah. In fact, she could refuse to utter the word “cancer” again for her entire life. She could say that she lost her dad to cancer and she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Who would blame her?
But that’s not quite Butler’s style. The U of U student was appointed as director of this year’s Rock the U fund-raising effort, and she put a passion behind it that comes only from knowing how research can provide hope to the least hopeful situation.
On Friday, March 11, Butler and 190 other University of Utah students will dance for 13.1 hours in the university’s Olpin Union Ballroom in a “half marathon” to help raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
Butler’s father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when Butler was a freshman in high school. Life as the family knew it stopped and all attention was focused on spending every extra moment with Butler’s dad. Her mother retired; Butler and her brother dropped out of many extracurricular activities and sports teams. The prognosis was grim, but doctors treated the cancer aggressively and Butler’s dad went into remission.
Slowly, the Butlers got back to a normal life. Butler’s father was as involved as ever: going to college campus tours and even participating in their annual ski trip at Snowbird. Butler and her brother returned to their many extracurricular activities, sports teams and college preparations.
Life went on like this for about a year. Then, the inevitable happened: the cancer came back, and it spread more aggressively than doctors had seen in an abdominal cancer. Crestfallen, Butler and her family knew that “the solid fact was that, eventually, the cancer would win.”
Doctors treated the cancer with chemotherapy. Life became a composite of hospitals, surgeries and diets. Butler remembers, “Every high school experience was bittersweet. Every soccer game, swim meet or long afternoon in the yearbook office left me feeling guilty. If I couldn’t look up and see my dad’s face, then I wasn’t in the right place.”
After his body deteriorated to the level that it was even difficult for him to get out of bed, Butler’s father made the decision to stop treatment and utilize hospice care at home. He died nearly three years after battling the cancer that doctors thought would take his life within weeks.
In Butler’s words, she felt like her life went with him. She realized that her dad would not see her graduate from high school or college. He would not meet her fiancé or walk her down the aisle at her wedding. They would not share a father-daughter dance.
Butler says that Friday’s Rock the U fundraiser is her “Dance for Dad.” She hopes to raise $5,000 in sponsorship of her participation in the marathon. Currently, she has raised over $4,600. She hopes her participation will make her dad’s fight worthwhile.
Rock the U was started in 2007, when the student body president at the University of Utah lost his dad to lung cancer.
This year, Rock the U has raised over $22,700. Organizers expect to raise another $6,000 during the dance marathon through sponsorship of dancers and walk-ins.
Participants can register at www.rocktheu.com for $10. Dancing begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 11, at the Olpin Union Ballroom on the U of U campus. The “half-marathon” dance will end at 7:06 a.m. Saturday morning. Donations also can be made without participating in the dance or sponsoring a dancer.
Butler says that the money raised isn’t only about finding a cure for cancer, but about giving people hope. “Whether the cure comes in our lifetime, or generations after us, I know from experience that hope alone can fuel the fight, give optimism to the victim, and encourage them to continue their battle for themselves and for their loved ones.”