Janesville high schooler organizing ride to fight cancer

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

— Karleen Wojczak stayed by her grandmother’s side almost constantly in the final days of her grandmother’s life.

“I put a cool washcloth on her forehead,” Karleen said. “I held her hand. I talked to her. I did everything in my power to make her comfortable.”

More than a year ago, Karleen told her grandmother that she had to leave to pick up her sister from school. Twenty minutes later, Karleen pulled into the driveway to find her parents waiting.

“The first look at my mom confirmed what I had feared,” 18-year-old Karleen said. “Within this short amount of time, Grandma’s body had given up.”

Her grandmother, Kathleen “Kay” Scully, endured chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer. But Kay’s condition worsened, and she died Feb. 6, 2012.

As time passed, Karleen felt she should do something to remember the special woman. The Parker High School senior decided to organize a bicycle ride to raise money for the South Central Wisconsin Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

After about a year of brainstorming and planning, Kay’s Cancer Ride will take place Sunday, May 19, at Rockport Park in Janesville. The event features 5-, 10- and 20-mile rides that begin and end at the park and run on paved off-road trails through Janesville. Participants also can take part in a 1-mile walk.

“My grandmother and I were really close, especially after my grandfather died,” Karleen said. “I was always doing little things to surprise her and to put a smile on her face.”

Karleen is organizing the event during a busy time. She has been studying for advanced placement exams this week. If her scores are high enough, she will earn credits at Marquette University, where she wants to major in biomedical science and become a physician’s assistant.

“I like the variety of what you do,” she said, “I also like the balance of having a medical career but still having enough time for family life, as well.”

In addition, Karleen works as a certified nursing assistant with special needs students. She graduates from Parker on June 7.

“If my grandma were here, she would tell me that I was stretching myself too thin,” Karleen said. “But it would make her smile.”

Karleen’s mom, Kris Scully-Wojczak, thinks her daughter’s effort is “a great tribute to my mom,” Kris said. “I knew Karleen was going to do something, but I did not know what. She kept planning the ride until she got it worked out.”

Karleen has taken part in bike races and understands where she needs volunteers to pitch in.

“I got the pavilion reservation,” she said. “I got the insurance and the sponsorships. Now, the hardest part is getting participants. When I first started, I put my goal at 400 participants. Now, if I get 100, I will be ecstatic.”

Money raised will support the local affiliate of Susan G. Komen. Seventy-five percent of the affiliate’s net income goes toward funding grants to local hospitals and community groups. They provide breast-health education and breast-cancer screening and treatment for medically underserved women in Dane, Rock and Sauk counties. The other 25 percent supports the National Komen Grants program, which funds breast cancer research and educational and scientific programs around the world.

“A part of me is missing now that my grandma is gone,” Karleen said. “I just want to do something to honor and remember how great she was.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.


Last updated: 10:38 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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