By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published August 21, 2008
Steps for Epp, a fundraising team started by Lisa Epperson, Eastern regional director for Life Teen, came together for the fourth year recently, honoring her beloved brother, Jeff, who died in 2001 at the age of 26 of a brain tumor.
Formed by friends and family members, the team finished in first place for the third consecutive year by raising more than $20,000 for the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation’s Race for Research.
The foundation celebrated its ninth race event in Atlanta July 12 with 5K and 2K walk/run courses. More than $310,000 was raised by 72 teams.
Each year the foundation sets up a wall of honor to remember brain tumor survivors and those who have died. Family members and friends bring photos or make posters and tell stories about their loved ones.
The Eppersons have created a board with pictures of Jeff that appears on the wall every year. Lisa Epperson describes the memorial as “an emotional and amazing part of the race for everyone.”
“(Jeff) was an incredible man of faith and joy,” Epperson recalled. “He was studying for his master’s in mechanical engineering at Purdue when he was diagnosed. He was active at the campus ministry there and fell in love with mission work during trips to Haiti.”
“His illness only strengthened his faith in God and devotion to Mary,” she said. “He offered all his suffering for women who were considering abortion. He taught me what it means to praise God regardless of the circumstances. I am blessed to have him as my big brother.”
Having directly experienced the impact on her family, she understands the power of the disease and even more so the importance of raising money for research.
The race “raises money for two purposes: research and support of patients and their families,” she said. “Anything we can do … is so important.”
Epperson’s involvement began when her then 24-year-old brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1998. The family rallied around him, spending countless hours, days and months in support as he battled the illness cared for by Dr. Henry Friedman through the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. His struggle against the disease lasted for three years.
When Jeff moved back to Atlanta toward the end of his life, the family became actively involved with the SBTF. For the past four years, they have participated in the Race for Research. Stan Epperson, Lisa and Jeff’s father, serves on the board of directors for the SBTF and has been involved with other efforts, including Angels Among Us, a 5K race and walk at Duke. The family has also established the Jeffrey Thomas Epperson Memorial Fund to support brain tumor research at Duke.
Steps for Epp significantly passed its fundraising goals this year. The team hoped to raise $10,000 and ended with a total of $21,465. Donations continue to trickle in for the race, giving leaders hope that the grand total of $310,000 will rise even higher.
Year after year, Epperson is humbled by the support she receives. She joins forces with her friend Mike Judge to kick off the fundraising at a Super Bowl party they host together. This is coupled with an annual letter to friends and family updating the efforts of the SBTF. There does not seem to be an end to the generosity of those who knew Jeff and who have come to know his family, she said.
“It’s amazing to listen to stories about how many people have been affected by brain tumors,” Epperson said. “The empathy I’ve been shown—from friends, family, people I barely even know—has been overwhelming.”
The walk in Atlanta is also linked to a worldwide effort to bring attention to the need for research. The SBTF is donating miles walked to the ongoing Walk Around the World for Brain Tumors, sponsored by an international alliance.
“You are showing solidarity with others around the globe whose lives are touched by this disease,” wrote Denis Strangman, chair of the International Brain Tumor Alliance, to race supporters.