CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — It was hard to miss the large crowd gathered at UNC’s Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill Sunday.
The crowd filled with families, athletes and organizations all came together for a common cause — to support pediatric cancer research.
“When you have a community of people who are coming together for a shared cause for something like childhood cancer, there’s an energy that you can’t deny,” said Rebecca Erquitt, V Foundation for Cancer Research assistant director of communications.
Erquitt said it’s the second time the fundraising event called “Dribble for Victory Over Cancer” has been held on UNC’s campus. Erquitt said the tradition first began with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation 16 years ago on UCLA and St. John’s campuses and has nationally raised more than $2 million.
While also teaming with Carolina Athletics and UNC Children’s, Erquitt said Sunday’s event, alone, helped raise $65,000.
“Over 15,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, and that’s 15,000 too many,” said Erquitt. “That’s too many families, too many kids that are having to face that news. So, we are more determined than ever to fund research because that’s how we find cures.”
After a welcome ceremony inside Carmichael Arena, families and Tar Heel women and men’s basketball players headed outside to dribble a mile across campus. The crowd headed to the Old Well and Bell Tower before heading back to the arena.
Cloie Thomas and her family were among the crowd to attend the event at UNC’s campus. Thomas lost her son to a rare form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia in 2018. He was just 13 years old.
“He loved the Tar Heels, he loved sports, he loved Elvis and playing the guitar… he was just an old soul who loved to love people,” said Thomas.
The Greensboro mother said Dylan fought a tough battle for two years and received treatment at UNC Children’s and Saint Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Thomas said her boy wrote a final wish in his journal to always remember and help children with cancer.
Thomas and her family have continued to keep that promise by attending fundraising events and supporting other families.
“If you’re not faced with it yourself, you don’t really think about it. Every single day there are parents hearing the words ‘Your child has cancer’– something when you have a baby that you think you’ll never hear,” said Thomas.
Thomas added, “If we can do anything to make sure someone else doesn’t have to go through what our family has gone through, then I want to be a part of that forever.”