“Let the Journey Begin” inspired by aunt’s battle

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With high school graduation recently behind them, many a teenager is pondering what path his or her life will take as they draw ever closer to adulthood.  But one Morgantown High School graduate has begun a journey of a different sort, one that she neither anticipated nor hoped for. It started back in January when 18-year-old Erin (Poppy) Polak learned that her aunt, Erin Dunmire, had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

“I remember the moment like it happened just today,” Polak said. “It’s burned and engraved in my mind. Sometimes, it almost haunts me.”

The word “cancer” evoked feelings of anger, hurt, fear and confusion, yet Polak found solace in a quote her aunt has long preached to her: “Life is a journey. Not a destination. Enjoy the moments.”

“My aunt has tried to get me to understand these words and the meaning behind them for as long as I can remember,” Polak said. “It took a brain tumor and a little bit of God for me to actually understand what I’m supposed to do with this advice.”

Polak has started a “Let the Journey Begin” project to raise money to support brain cancer research and patient comfort at the West Virginia University Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center. She’s raised more than $1,400 so far by selling bracelets bearing her aunt’s quote to schoolmates, friends and family members and has set a goal of at least $25,000, the amount needed to establish a research endowment.

The bracelets are yellow and gray. Yellow is Erin Dunmire’s favorite color and gray is the color associated with brain cancer. The bracelets are $1 apiece and are for sale at the Friends Gift Shop in Ruby Memorial Hospital.

Dunmire’s goddaughter, Megan Murdock, is also teaming up on the project. “I want people to know the things I learned from Aunt E,” Murdock said. “She’s been so strong throughout all this.”

With the help of their aunt, the girls are working on other ways they can raise money for the Let the Journey Begin Fund, including a letter-writing campaign and selling T-shirts. 

What does Dunmire think of their efforts? “These girls understand what’s important in life, and they get it at a young age,” she said. “It hits me to the core. At times it has stopped my breath. It’s one of those magical moments, very powerful.”

Dunmire had surgery at WVU Hospitals to remove the tumor from her brain and went back to work as director of customer service at the hospital three weeks later. She is continuing her treatment at WVU and said she feels great.

Dr. (Julian) Bailes got the entire tumor out. His skill and kindness were impressive. Dr. (Alejandro) Torres-Trejo, my neuro-oncologist, was just flat out wonderful. He never flinches at questions we ask.”

Dunmire said it is important to her and her nieces that all money raised from the Let the Journey Begin project stay here at home. 

“Making money to go to the research of brain cancer is great, and I hope people will donate,” Polak added. “But more importantly, I hope people will pass my aunt’s message along from person to person. I want it to help them and give hope to others as it has done for me. I want them to treasure all the moments they have.”

Dunmire said she hopes that others battling brain cancer will remember to take loved ones with them through their journey and will appreciate the simple things in life, like a beautiful sunset, a full moon or a rainbow. 

“That’s really what it’s all about,” she said.

For information on the Let the Journey Begin Fund, call 304-293-3711.  To make an online donation go to www.wvucancer.org/giving and click on the “make a gift” package.

Photo caption: Erin (Poppy) Polak (right) started the Let the Journey Begin Fund in honor of her aunt, Erin Dunmire (center). Megan Murdock (left), Dunmire’s goddaughter, is also part of the project, which supports brain cancer research and patient comfort at WVU.

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
ss: 06-30-11