Lighting a Candle

“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
This quote was once said by Eleanor Roosevelt but originates from an old Chinese proverb. To me, it perfectly describes the mission of the Illini 4000. For anyone who has been affected by cancer in any way, the struggle can seem overwhelming. The grief, the frustration, and the hatred of cancer form the darkness that many of us experience. Cancer can induce feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. But instead of wallowing in our sadness, we choose to light a candle of hope, so to speak. We spread that hope across the country through our ride from NYC to San Francisco and the Portraits Project.

June 1st would have been my close friend Shea’s 19th birthday. She passed away last July after a long and courageous battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While I have many other loved ones who have been affected by cancer, Shea’s struggle was the most recent and the one I knew most about. Shea was honestly one of the greatest people I have ever met. She was crazy talented at playing instruments, writing, and art. We could talk for hours about books, movies, and Harry Potter video games. She could make anyone laugh. Above all, she was a kind and loyal friend. I miss her every day.

When I arrived at U of I in the fall, I went to every activity and volunteer fair to find my place on campus. When I saw the booth for the Illini 4000, Shea’s death was still fresh in my mind. I immediately felt a strong conviction to join the organization, and I am so incredibly happy that I did. That darkness, that grief, had been weighing upon me for a long time, and this has been the perfect opportunity to do something about it. I absolutely love I4K.

The Portraits Project is a fantastic example of the proverb in action. We often talk about how people usually associate stories about cancer with sadness and pain. In reality, people’s stories often hold inspiring messages, helpful advice, and a lot of hope. Our growing collection of stories from across the country definitely contains accounts of hardship and grief, but highlights the courage and hopefulness of patients. Just in the past couple of days, we have heard stories from Katie and Tammy, both cancer survivors. I’m confident that their portraits will provide guidance for other patients who are feeling lost.

Sometimes we get angry at cancer. Like yelling crying screaming foot-stomping chair-throwing mad. And that is perfectly okay. But in the long run, it’s much better to channel those feelings toward something productive, like funding research for a cure and providing patient support services. We choose to hope for a future without cancer.


Comments (2)
  • Frances Tomczyk says:

    Hi Catherine,
    Grandpa and I read your blog and it affirms what a very special girl you are. We are very proud of you and your resolve to do the 14K We go to the website everyday to read about your progress. It connects us with you and the other members. We were very sad that you fell on the very first day out but you seem to have gotten thru it with flying colors. Keep trucking! See you when you reach Chicago. LOTS OF LOVE Grandma and Grandpa T.

  • Tory Cross Tory Cross says:


    I’m so happy you guys have had the chance to experience Portraits in this way already. They’re going to lead to some amazing things, and those amazing things start with you and your teammates.
    Keep writing, it’s great to hear your thoughts!

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