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North Huntingdon family continues campaign to cure brain cancer

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The North Huntingdon-based Reflections of Grace Foundation continues to take steps toward finding a cure for a rare brain cancer with its sixth annual Race for Grace.

The Saturday event features a 5K race, walk and one-mile walk in memory of Grace Elizabeth Ekis, who died in 2008 after a yearlong battle with a form of brain cancer. She was 5.

The race, held at Norwin High School, is the foundation's main fundraiser for the year, and its proceeds are used to provide financial and emotional support to families coping with a brain-tumor diagnosis, according to Grace's mother, Tamara Ekis.

“The race is something exciting, but at the same time, it's something we wish we weren't thrust into,” Ekis said.

In 2007, Grace developed diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, an inoperable tumor in her brain stem.

According to the American Brain Tumor Association, the tumor grows amongst nerves, which makes it impossible to remove. About 90 percent of children diagnosed with DIPG die within 18 months, and 97 percent die within three years.

Grace underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments to fight the cancer, but her tumor continued to grow. She died Feb. 14, 2008.

Tamara and her husband, Brian, who live in North Huntingdon, formed the Reflections of Grace Foundation to offer support to families going through similar situations.

The foundation provides up to $2,000 in grants to families while their child receives treatments for their tumor, works with hospital social workers and offer families resources to find support, Ekis said.

So far, the foundation has helped 109 families across 26 states, she said.

“Being in our sixth year, we've gotten to a point where families are counting on us,” Tamara said. “It's been an honor to be able to help so many.”

Last year, the race had 2,100 runners and walkers and raised about $105,000, according to race director Ashley Leax Metz.

This year, organizers hope to attract 2,300 and raise $110,000, she said.

“I was part of the very first race, and we've accomplished a lot in that time, but there is so much more to do,” Leax Metz said. “These are baby steps toward finding a cure for DIPG.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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