By Julia Mace
Rick June had to pull his car over and cry.
It was a time of celebration – his son Collin had just graduated from the University of Dayton. They had packed up Collin’s belongings and Rick was headed to the graduation party.
He pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot to collect himself and reflect on his emotion. It had been a challenging journey to arrive at this life milestone.
In August 1995, at the age of 8, Collin suffered a crippling headache and vomiting while on vacation. After a visit to an urgent care and a call to the pediatrician, it was recommended Collin have an MRI when he got home.
Back in Cincinnati, at the end of a busy day – Rick had started a new position at Procter & Gamble and Collin attended hockey camp – Rick took Collin for his scan.
“I knew there was an issue when it was an hour and a half after the scan and no one had come to talk to us,” Rick recalls. “I knew something was going on. They had called a neurosurgeon from the University of Cincinnati; it was about 10 p.m.”
The scan showed that Collin’s right ventricle had a seven-centimeter meningioma, a highly unusual brain tumor for children.
His doctors had every reason to believe it could be removed and there was a high chance it was benign.
Halfway through Collin’s surgery, Rick and his wife Heather received bad news.
“A nurse came out and said, ‘It’s not good,’” says Rick. “It was deeper than they thought, highly aggressive and a stage 4 malignancy. We fell apart – the hope we were holding onto dissipated.”
Things continued to get worse. A follow-up scan revealed that 10 percent of the tumor was still in the brain matter. A team from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC’s Brain Tumor Center decided the only course of action would be the level of radiation given to adults, which has long-term effects on children.
A week after brain surgery, Collin returned to school. Because of radiation, Collin, who had previously scored in the 99th percentile in math, now struggled with the basics.
“I had a lot of problems with my memory, so school was hard for me,” Collin says. “It was definitely very hard. I knew that, on test day, I wouldn’t test well.”
Through the love and support of his family and the care he received at Cincinnati Children’s and UC, Collin went on to graduate from college.
“There were times I would want to give up in high school and college, but my family kept me going,” he says. “I wanted to take a break, but my dad said, ‘Hey let’s just stick with it.’ That kind of pushed me through.”
Today, Collin is a not only a college graduate but a healthy, thriving adult. Both father and son channel their gratitude into the Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor event.
In the last seven years, Walk Ahead supporters have raised $1.6 million. Awareness and funds for research are crucial – 215,000 individuals in the United States are diagnosed with brain tumors each year. During the last two decades, the incidence of brain tumors has increased 22 percent overall and 55 percent in people over 65 years of age.
Rick has been a Walk Ahead co-chair for two years; Collin has served as volunteer coordinator. Their team, Collin’s Crew, has participated every year.
“The walk is really important to me because it raises awareness and money and it all stays in Cincinnati,” says Collin. “Cincinnati is a big hub for cancer and brain tumor research.”
“There is a depth and meaning and sense of purpose behind this walk,” says Rick. “I think people are touched more deeply. I think the level of despair people go through is deep, and this all translates into this very purposeful experience. At the same time, it’s highly celebratory. It’s the walking manifestation of hope.”
Collin’s life is a testament to the importance of this work. He’s a volunteer mentor to patients at the UC Brain Tumor Center. He has worked in the health care field and married UC physician Rachel June last fall. Perhaps best of all, Collin and Rachel are expecting their first child in December.
“If someone had told me after his diagnosis with his brain tumor that someday his life would be as good as it is today, I never would have believed it,” says Rick. “The veil of despair that comes down when your child experiences something like a malignant brain tumor, you can’t see past it.
“Part of my journey was finding a way to move beyond that despair and put my faith in his physicians and for our family, God, and just persevere. We’ve experienced a remarkable circle of life.”
Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure is Sunday, Oct. 22, at Sawyer Point.
The eighth annual walk/run benefits the research and education efforts of the UC Brain Tumor Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute.
To participate or volunteer in the walk, or donate to brain cancer research: walkahead.org
Writer Julia Mace is assistant director, communications and marketing, with the University of Cincinnati Foundation.