HOW TO GO
Where: 7th Annual Walk Ahead 5K Walk/Run for a brain tumor cure. Begin and end at Sawyer Point Park in downtown Cincinnati.
When: Sunday, Oct. 23
5K Run: 8:30 a.m. (awards will be given to the first 25 male and first 25 female finishers.)
5K Walk: 9 a.m.
Cost: Registration can be done on-site. $45 to walk or run; Children 12 and under $15; volunteers free
Donate: go to www.walkahead.org, under Fundraiser Search put in Billi Ewing and donate to her team.
In October 2013, Harrison Twp. resident Billi Ewing noticed that the vision in her right eye was blurred, and assumed she needed a new eyeglass prescription. Almost a year later, at 37, she had surgery to remove a brain tumor. Even before her scars had healed, she’d thrown herself into creating awareness of the many forms and symptoms of brain tumors.
“When I discovered I had an atypical benigh meningioma, I searched the Internet, and only saw older white people — and I wanted to talk with someone who looked like me,” said the wife and mother of three.
“Then, I remembered Leslie Lovelace — oldest daughter of Dean Lovelace, long-time Dayton city commissioner — who lives in Atlanta now. I called and found her story was similar to mine.
“She’d had problems hearing, but didn’t tell anyone. By the time she was finally diagnosed with a benign acoustical neuroma and treated, she’d lost hearing in that ear and was left with a deformity on that side of her face.”
Ewing’s 13-hour surgery and reconstruction were done at the University of Cincinnati Brain Tumor Center.
“We shared the same anxieties about trusting a doctor to cut into our heads and the fear of never being the same,” said Lovelace, who had her surgery seven years ago at 40.
“We really do inspire each other and now share a special bond of tumor survival that many of our own family and friends will never understand,” Lovelace noted.
It took Ewing a year to “look normal” after her surgery. “I looked like Frankenstein for a long time, but didn’t want to become a hermit.”
Ewing had read the folder given to her at the hospital, and discovered there was a Walk Ahead for Brain Tumor Cure. “I was so happy to find there was a walk, that people were trying to create awareness, but I had to email and tell them their materials needed to be changed.
“I’m not an angry black girl, but if people don’t see themselves on that website and in brochures, they’ll think, ‘This is something just elderly white people get.’
“I was surprised to get a response saying that brain tumors affect all ages, all races, but no others had given permission to use their stories and pictures. I was asked if I was willing, and I was — so I guess I’ve become the Dayton ambassador.”
Last year, Ewing formed her own team for the 6th Annual Walk Ahead. “I had 22 people on my team, and we made the news; they even used me in an ad at the center where I had radiation — they needed a face, and I became that face.”
She refused to wear a wig while her hair grew back, she still has a bald spot with scars that she doesn’t cover since it’s led to conversations and awareness, and she’s discovered that others had or knew someone with brain tumors. “Now, they want to share their stories.”
“Billi has been one of my greatest inspirations in moving forward with my mission to spread love and support for brain tumor diagnoses and survivors,” says Lovelace.
Both friends started public facebook pages to share their experiences — “Billi’s Believers” and “Crooked Smile.”
Ewing’s organized a team for this year’s 7th Annual Walk Ahead and is hoping to double the number of local participants from last year. To join her team, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.