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Lacing Up for the Return of In-Person BT5K’s

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2022 BT5K 5K Run & Walk

After two years of connecting through virtual events, the Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5K (BT5K) Run & Walk events are returning in person to major cities this year. (Virtual participation is still offered as an alternative.) 

MindMatters caught up with three participants of upcoming BT5K events who say they can’t wait to be back with their local brain tumor communities and support a great cause.

Tampa BT5K Run & Walk ⬦ Saturday, March 19, 2022 ⬦ Al Lopez Park

John Bird and The Tumornators

John Bird (or JB) of Tampa, Fla., puts meaning behind his team’s name, “The Tumornators.” He’s a seven-year glioblastoma survivor who was diagnosed at 28 years old. 

His life of playing poker and beach volleyball was flipped upside down after receiving his diagnosis. Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme or GBM, is considered to be one of the most aggressive and fast-growing malignant (cancerous) brain tumors. 

After years of undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and now a wearable medical device called Optune®, the cards are playing in JB’s favor with no significant tumor growth.  

Inspired to share his experience and help others, JB started speaking at different charity events and got involved with the ABTA as a volunteer. For several years now, he’s served as Team Captain for Tampa’s BT5K.

JB Bird
John “JB” Bird is a seven-year glioblastoma survivor and Tampa BT5K Team Captain

“I feel like I’m giving back by participating,” JB said. “It’s great for me to be a part of a group that’s working toward fighting brain cancer.” 

With BT5K’s returning in person this year, JB said he’s excited to be an event speaker and share his story. His favorite part of BT5Ks – being surrounded by members of the brain tumor community.

“We’re like a family. Everyone is united with one goal in mind. A brain tumor diagnosis can be an isolating experience. It’s important to not feel alone in your fight with cancer.” 

The 2022 Tampa BT5K kicks off Saturday, March 19 at Al Lopez Park in Tampa. For information on how you can participate or make a donation, click here!


Chicago BT5K Run & Walk ⬦ Sunday, May 1, 2022 ⬦ Maggie Daley Park

Autumn Lettow: All You Need is 'Lobe' 💜

Chicago-native Autumn Lettow received her brain tumor diagnosis in September 2020 – an already difficult time at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

After a quick-thinking optometrist saw something alarming during an eye exam, Autumn got an MRI. She was diagnosed with a grade two meningioma, a brain tumor stemming from the brain and spinal cord, which accounts for a third of all primary brain tumor cases.  

Within months, Autumn had two surgeries to remove the tumor and faced radiation in her next phase of treatment. 

As the flurry of events slowed down a bit, Autumn found the ABTA online and discovered others who’ve had similar experiences. 

“Reading stories that were similar to mine… through BT5K groups and on team fundraising pages, those were really helpful to me,” she said. “It made me feel as normal as I could.”

Autumn Lettow and her BT5K team in 2021
Autumn Lettow (light blue shirt) and her team participated in the 2021 Virtual BT5K

“Reading stories that were similar to mine... through BT5K groups and on team fundraising pages, those were really helpful to me. It made me feel as normal as I could.”

This year, Autumn is eager to join the Chicago BT5K and meet her peers in person, which she said follows 18 months of hospital visitor restrictions and online-based peer networking. 

“I didn’t know anything I do now going into surgery. I didn’t know what to expect, that I could lose my ability to speak – none of that,” she said. “So, if I can meet others who have been through or are preparing for surgery, I want to be there for them.” 

Autumn said she strives to make her story as public and personalized as possible. She encourages others to gain traction for their BT5K team fundraiser by sharing the team page across social media channels.

If you want to get involved or support a team in the 2022 Chicago BT5K, Sunday, May 1 at Maggie Daley Park, click here for details.


Michigan BT5K Run & Walk ⬦ Sunday, May 15, 2022 ⬦ Kensington Metropark, Milford

Larry Berg: United Against Tumors

Larry Berg and his family during BT5K Michigan events

The Berg’s are among the familiar faces at Michigan BT5K Run & Walk events. Larry Berg has served as Race Chair and Team Captain every year since 2013 in support of his daughter Kaitlyn, who was diagnosed with Pilocytic Astrocytoma at the age of 13.

A steadfast advocate of the ABTA and advancing brain tumor research, Larry’s BT5K Race and his team have risen close to $1 million to support the ABTA mission. 

After two years of participating virtually, Larry said he looks forward to seeing everyone together again with a common bond and feeling the emotions of being in person.

“It’s the comradery of being with friends, family, and survivors,” he said. “You get to see all the survivors in front of you and are able to engage with folks who lost a friend or family member to a brain tumor.” 

Over the years, Larry said he’s learned of several people in his existing network who’ve been impacted by a brain tumor. 

“At one of our events, I saw a colleague who was supporting his best friend’s brain tumor team,” he said. 

“It creates a different dynamic of your relationships; you never truly know what people are going through.”

Larry said he uses the [BTK fundraising] platform to share his daughter Kaitlyn’s story and trace her journey over time. 

Today, Kaitlyn works full-time at a prominent bank in its wealth management division in Chicago – all while fighting her tumor through chemotherapy treatments. 

As Kaitlyn persists in her fight, Larry said the community can help drive research efforts by supporting events like the BT5K.

“We need continued support for the ABTA which funds new research grants – to ultimately find more solutions and cures, and create new clinical trials,” he said. 

To participate or donate to a team at the 2022 Michigan BT5K, Sunday, May 15 at Kensington Metropark, click here. 
Picture of Jessie Schlacks

Jessie Schlacks

Jessie is Managing Editor of the bi-monthly e-newsletter MindMatters. Submit story ideas or questions to jschlacks@abta.org.