Three years ago, Eloise Gould was a normal 12-year-old girl. Her uncle, Joe Melloy, described her as having the face of an angel and a smile that could melt your heart. She danced, created artwork, and had dreams of becoming a scuba diver. Sometimes she would put together outfits that rarely matched, but somehow still worked out.
Not long after her twelfth birthday, Eloise was diagnosed withrhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer. Melloywatched for two-and-a-half years as Eloise fought a brave battle. He sent her clothing and art supplies to keep her busy in the hospital and promised to keep hope alive.
Eloise's battle with cancer ended in May of last year, but her spirit still emanates today. As a tribute to his niece, Melloy participated in the Ultimate Hike, a 33-mile trek along the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota.
The hike raises money for CureSearch, the only major national non-profit dedicated solely to childhood cancer research, according to Brecka Putnam, regional development manager for the CureSearch for Children's Cancer.
The organization contributes funds to the Children's Oncology Group (COG) which treats over 90 percent of childhood cancer patients through a network of over 200 hospitals.
The Children's Oncology Group has been able to change the childhood cancer cure rate from 10 percent to 78 percent in 40 years.
This is the first year of the Ultimate Hike in the Midwest, modeled after its successful start in the South.
"We knew that there would be Midwesterners that were up to the challenge, so we introduced the event in Madison, Minneapolis, and Duluth/Superior this spring for the August hike, and to Grand Rapids, Mich., this summer for a fall event," Putnam said.
Through the help of supportive family and friends, and social media connections, Melloy was able to earn over $2,820 toward his hike, well over his $2,500 goal.
"CureSearch had been very supportive through the process with Eloise's battle and participating in the Ultimate Hike was a really easy decision," Melloy said.
"What is very inspiring is that people were contributing while the economic news at the time was some of the worst I've seen in my lifetime," he said. "It shows that people really care about trying to find a cure for cancer and especially a cure for children's cancer, even in hard times."
Training for Melloy included summer hikes in state parks around Madison and Lake Monona. Good hiking shoes, a nice backpack with a hydration system, and hiking sticks were essential to the climb as well. He stressed the importance of not only preparing physically but also mentally.
"The actual hike was perhaps the hardest effort I have ever done," Melloy said. "I've hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail in the East and the Sierras out West in the past and the trails for the Ultimate Hike easily were as difficult."
While organizations like CureSearch and The Children's Oncology group have made sizable strides in research towards treatment and prevention of childhood cancer, there is still no cure.
Every day, 36 children are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. Seven of those children will die of their disease.
For many participants like Melloy, the Ultimate Hike is a way to honor those who have lost the battle of childhood cancer, as well as a way to continue the fight to find a cure for such a devastating disease.
"While they are fighting to finish those last few miles, there are kids in hospital beds fighting for their lives," said Putnam. "Because of our hikers, hopefully more of those kids will survive their disease."
Melloy's motivation for the hike is clear: Eloise.
"I certainly felt her spirit on the Ultimate Hike and think about her nearly every day," Melloy said. "I will do the Ultimate Hike next year for her and the cause. The experience is totally worth it."