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5k team rallies behind professor battling brain cancer

Monday, April 14, 2014
5k team rallies behind professor battling brain cancer
Dr. Sue Saliga's students are organizing a 5k team to support her fight against brain cancer and to raise money for brain tumor research.
A group of Oakland University students, faculty and supporters is gearing up for the American Brain Tumor Association’s Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5k Run/Walk, an event that supports brain tumor research. Dubbed “Oakland University Physical Therapy-Sue’s Crew,” the team is raising funds in honor of Dr. Sue Saliga, an OU physical therapy instructor battling brain cancer.

“It means so much to be able to support someone and have a name behind our donations – it makes donating that much more profound,” said Megan Jobes, who serves as team co-captain with Leah Rust. Both are students in OU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program and have taken courses with Dr. Saliga.

The pair described their instructor as “very open” about her diagnosis, treatment and progression.

Currently comprised of more than 90 members, “Sue’s Crew” includes OU students, faculty and alumni, as well as area clinicians and Dr. Saliga’s friends and family. Team members have been inspired by her devotion to Oakland University and the surrounding community. She founded the “Bridge the Gap” program, which allows Oakland students to gain experience providing physical therapy to individuals with a neurological diagnosis. In addition to her teaching role, Dr. Saliga serves as Admissions Chair of OU's Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Though she is on medical leave from OU this semester, she remains active and even plans to walk in the 5k with her teammates.

“I'm totally amazed, honored and appreciative,” Dr. Saliga said. “I'm so thankful for all the people taking part in this effort to make sure that cancer patients get the help they need.”

Dr. Saliga says her illness has affected her emotions, balance and memory, but hasn't dampened her spirits. She hopes her experience can be a teaching tool to help others learn to recognize warning signs of brain cancer. She said her symptoms first appeared almost one year to the day of the upcoming race.

“Many people ignore the symptoms,” said Dr. Saliga, who noted that her first symptom was a partial seizure she initially mistook for an anxiety attack. “I felt like I was being chased, I felt nauseous, my hair stood on end.”

The incident prompted an immediate doctor visit, which led to her diagnosis. She underwent surgery last July to remove the tumor, but it had reappeared by October. She began radiation treatments shortly after and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Stressing the importance of early detection, Dr. Saliga believes that her story can help students become better physical therapists.

“In our profession, we treat a lot of people with brain injuries,” she said. The more students learn about brain cancer, they can recognize the symptoms when they evaluate patients.” 

“Sue's Crew” aims to raise $7,000, which will help the American Brain Tumor Association provide vital resources to patients and their families, fund promising research studies and conduct nationwide brain tumor educational programs. There are several ways to support their efforts:

  • Register for the 5k run/walk ($35 registration fee)
  • Register as a “virtual walker” (for those unable to attend the event, but who still want to fundraise; no cost)
  • Donate to an individual on the team
  • Donate to the team directly

Those who register as a walker, runner, or virtual walker will get their own fundraising page. The registration deadline is Friday, May 2 and donations are accepted until Tuesday, June 10. To join the team or make a donation, visit the “Sue’s Crew” webpage. Oakland University and the OU School of Health Sciences are sponsors of the event.

The Breakthrough for Brain Tumors 5k run/walk is set for Saturday, May 10 at Providence Park Hospital, located at 47601 Grand River Ave. in Novi. The program starts at 8:30 a.m. The run will begin at 9 a.m., with the walk to follow. For additional information, contact Jobes at mmjobes@oakland.edu or Rust at larust@oakland.edu

May is national Brain Tumor Awareness Month. To learn more about American Brain Tumor Association programs, visit abta.org.