Health Restored, a Brain Tumor Survivor Shares Her Story and Song

Billi Ewing of Dayton, Ohio, and her son, Trenton, at the Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure. Photos by Cindy Starr.

Billi Ewing of Dayton, Ohio, and her son, Trenton, at the Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure. Photos by Cindy Starr.

After Billi Ewing underwent surgery for an atypical meningioma, a difficult but benign brain tumor that had grown into her facial structure, she found that she had trouble opening her jaw. Although the side-effect was not surprising, it was worrisome because Billi had been singing – so the story goes – ever since she emerged from the womb. She was now an accomplished neo-soul singer, and she could not imagine a life without song and stage.

“I prayed for restoration,” Billi says. “I said, ‘Lord restore me as best you can to what I was before. If you do, I will go forth and tell everybody I come across what you did for me. If you give me my voice back, that’s what I’ll do. And I will speak out for others who suffer from brain tumors.’ ”

Billi singing and son_260x260Billi fulfilled that promise in a big way last Sunday at the 6th annual Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure when she kicked off the walk with a passionate and nuanced rendition of the National Anthem. She sang while holding the hand of her son, Trenton, who had stood by her bravely a year ago when Dr. Mario Zuccarello, a neurosurgeon at the UC Brain Tumor Center, removed the tumor during a 13-hour operation on Trenton’s 5th birthday.

After the Anthem, Billi joined survivors, family members, friends and healthcare providers for the 5k walk. A total of 3,383 individuals from 19 states, including 133 teams, participated in the chip-timed run and walk, while they and their supporters have raised more than $316,000, with funds still being tabulated. The 6-year-old event has now grossed more than $1.3 million for education and research at the Brain Tumor Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute and UC Cancer Institute. Both institutes are collaborations of the UC College of Medicine and UC Health.

Brothers and event co-chairs Brian, left, and Joe Wiles.

Event co-chairs Brian Wiles, left, and his brother, Joe Wiles.

This year five teams raised more than $11,000: Team Mama Deb, Team Warner, Joe’s Team, Team Papaw – Joe Rippe, and Dr. Mike’s Mischief Makers. The event’s presenting sponsor was Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield; the gold sponsor was Papaw Joe Rippe; and silver sponsors were Shemenski Foundation, Miller Valentine Group, Mayfield Brain & Spine, and Dwyer Insurance.

Event Co-chairs were brothers Brian and Joe Wiles, and Kyla Woods of WLWT News 5 served as emcee.

Watch WLWT News 5’s wrap-up segment about the walk »

Team Mama Deb

Cindy Switzer, captain of Team Mama Deb, had been planning to walk with her mother, Debbie Switzer-Powell. “But God had other plans for her,” Cindy says. “She passed away in February after an 8-year battle with brain tumors, and now I feel that it’s my job to carry on her legacy and help others who are not as fortunate as I was when I was going through this with her. It can feel like such a lonely journey, no matter how many beautiful people you have around you supporting you. I would love for others just to know that they are not alone in this fight!”

Cindy Switzer, left, and Linda Dempsey, CNRN.

Cindy Switzer, captain of Team Mama Deb, left, and Linda Dempsey, CNRN.

In the end, the Walk – and the months leading up to it — provided unexpected benefits. “I used to own my own photography business, which I put to rest over two years ago when my mom’s health really started to decline,” Cindy says. “This year, I advertised that I was coming out of ‘photography retirement’ for a day and I hosted 32 mini-shoots, which raised over $2,000 for our team.”

A blockbuster garage sale raised another $2,500. In the end, Team Mama Deb had 104 team members and led all teams with more than $18,000 in donations.

“I had the most amazing time doing this,” Cindy says. “It has honestly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I think that organizing and leading this team really allowed me to start the healing process. I am so happy that Walk Ahead had such a wonderful turn out and that they could raise so much money. I’m so happy that Team Mama Deb could be a part of that!”

Midwest Regional Brain Tumor Conference

On Saturday, Oct. 24, the day before the Walk Ahead, 117 patients, family members and caregivers, 14 speakers and 14 exhibitor organizations took part in the Midwest Regional Brain Tumor Conference at the Sharonville Convention Center. Patients and families came from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan.

— Cindy Starr

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