Lake Tahoe’s Butterfly Effect 5K to raise thyroid cancer awareness | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe’s Butterfly Effect 5K to raise thyroid cancer awareness

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com
Devenney Leijon runs along one of Incline Village's beaches last October shortly before undergoing a second surgery to treat her thyroid cancer.
Courtesy Jen Schmidt / Jen Schmidt Photography |

Ways to donate

Online: www.butterflyeffect5k.org

Attend: Butterfly Effect 5K Run, Walk, Stroll for Thyroid Cancer Awareness, 8 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Sept. 5 at the Village Green in Incline Village.

Participate: The Rotary Club of Incline Village Foundation’s Treasures and Trinkets — A Community Yard Sale and Barbecue, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 6, at Aspen Grove in Incline Village, with proceeds to benefit the Butterfly Effect.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A woman who grew up at North Lake Tahoe intends to outrun cancer and wants others to join her in the race by putting one foot in front of the other — literally.

Fueled by her own passion for running and her diagnosis, Devenney Leijon is helping put on a walk, run and stroll event this Saturday at the Village Green to create awareness for thyroid cancer.

“I think it’s going to be really uplifting, and that was one of the things we wanted to accomplish with the run,” said Leijon, an Incline Village native. “I always feel empowered after a race, during a race or getting ready for a race, so we want survivors and their friends and family … to come out and feel empowered through the run.”

Leijon, who today lives in Reno, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer on Oct. 29, 2013, at the age of 29 after lumps appeared on her neck that wouldn’t go away.

“When someone you love gets sick, you don’t always know how you can help because you can’t actually go in there and fight the battle for them.”Jen Schmidt

Thyroid cancer affects the butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck — the thyroid — which produces hormones that regulate body functions such as heart rate and body temperature.

It’s commonly treated with surgery, followed by hormone therapy for the rest of one’s life.

“I thought once I’m strong enough I’ll just do a run (for thyroid cancer),” Leijon recalled. “It will give me a good goal, so as I’m going through treatment, I can of have my eyes on this run that I’ll do once I’ve gone through the treatment, once I start to heal again.

“ … I looked for one, but at the time there wasn’t one in the U.S. I found one in Canada and one in the Netherlands, but not one here.”

Rather than travel for a run or not participate at all, a friend of Lejion encouraged her to create a local thyroid cancer run, ultimately giving birth to the Butterfly Effect 5K.

Good cancer?

This inaugural race is being put on by Lake Tahoe’s Movement of Wings, a nonprofit that Leijon and four of her friends started in an effort to raise awareness and funds for thyroid cancer research.

“When someone you love gets sick, you don’t always know how you can help because you can’t actually go in there and fight the battle for them,” said Incline Village native and Lake Tahoe photographer Jen Schmidt, a board member for Movement of Wings. “You can provide them support — bring them food, do their laundry, walk the dog, do things that help them in their everyday life. … (Yet) you can feel really powerless.

“What we thought was, ‘let’s do something that will make Devenney feel great and help the battle that we actually can’t go fight for her, but maybe change it.’”

Similar to the theory that a flap of a butterfly’s wing can cause a hurricane halfway around the world, Movement of Wings hopes to create far-reaching effects in the realm of thyroid cancer by holding the 5K, Schmidt said.

One such effect is to change the common (mis)perception that thyroid cancer is “the good cancer.”

“There are horrific things with every cancer, but for some reason, this one has gotten the (reputation that), ‘oh, it’s no big deal. It’s cancer, but it’s not really cancer,’ which is inaccurate,” Leijon said. “It misleads friends and family when their loved one is first diagnosed, as well, because they’ll be frantically looking online and see it’s the good cancer, and think there’s nothing to worry about, which couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Leijon’s cancer has proven to be tricky, with her having to undergo three surgeries and one radiation treatment since her diagnosis nearly two years ago.

“If Devenney had been able to catch it earlier, her process of treatment might have been a lot more simple,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want anyone to have to go through that process, or not catch it early, so that’s one of the reasons we really want bring awareness. It is a disease to be taken seriously.”

Thyroid cancer is considered a rare cancer in the U.S., with 20,000 to 200,000 cases per year, but its rates are increasing.

“It’s the fastest growing cancer in the nation, so we definitely have to raise awareness about it because the sooner you catch it, the better survival rate,” Leijon said. “… To me it makes sense that you’d want to get the word out, especially since it’s rising so quickly.”

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, hence the Butterfly Effect 5K being held this weekend.

The event

The festivities kick off at 9 a.m. Saturday with a 3.1-mile run starting at the Village Green, followed by a walk of the same distance at 9:05 a.m. and a 1.94-mile stroll at 9:10 a.m.

Other activities planned include the Caterpillar Dash, a free short race on the Green for children 9 years old and under, at 10:30 a.m.; a free doggie dress-up contest called the Mutt Strut at 10:45 a.m.; a post-race Zumba dance party; and a silent auction.

Beyond scheduled events, there will be food, music, face painting and various booths representing local businesses and nonprofits available until noon.

While the latter activities are open to everyone, participation in the run, walk or stroll portion of the event requires pre-registration.

The last chance to register for the Butterfly Effect 5K is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, at the Incline Village Recreation Center at 960 Incline Way.

There is an entry fee to participate in the race, with funds to be donated to ThyCa, Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association Inc. It’s a national nonprofit dedicated toward support, education and communication for thyroid cancer survivors, their families and friends.

Leijon, Schmidt and the other board members of Lake Tahoe’s Movement of Wings hope the 5K becomes an annual event — a cause they think the local community can embrace.

“Having grown up here, we’ve all seen when a member of our community has something unfortunate happen, everyone kind of pitches in and tries to make it better for that person,” Schmidt explained. “This is just a continuation of that small town pulling together for a good cause, and even though it doesn’t directly benefit anyone (here), it benefits a greater cause.”

Visit butterflyeffect5k.org to learn more about the Butterfly Effect 5K. Visit http://www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroidcancer to learn more about thyroid cancer.