six adults and a child standing on a field posing and smiling
(from left to right) Brian Brigman, MD, PhD; Kate Ericson, NP; Nicole Mouser, Nurse Clinician; Colleen Forbes, Nurse Clinician; Sarcoma survivor Sharon Alston; Pam Pennigar, NP; and Ms. Alston’s son Cason. (photo courtesy of Sharon Alston)

A Test of Strength at DCI Strike Out Sarcoma Event


Back in person, the Duke Sarcoma Center's signature annual event raises nearly $30K for sarcoma research

Duke Sarcoma Center Director Brian Brigman, MD, PhD, and Nolan Miller, MHA
Duke Sarcoma Center Director Brian Brigman, MD, PhD, and Nolan Miller, MHA, administrative director of the Duke Sarcoma Center, break it down. "The 30 or so volunteers that helped set up, tear down and coordinate everything in between, made for a really smooth event," said Miller.

The annual Duke Cancer Institute-hosted Strike Out Sarcoma 5K Run/Walk event — held in person (not virtual) for the first time since 2019 — raised nearly $30,000 for sarcoma research at Duke. About 180 runners and walkers, plus many more families, caregivers, and friends who hadn't pre-registered came out to Wake Med Soccer Park on October 23 to show their support.

Brian Brigman, MD, PhD, orthopedic surgical oncologist, and the director of the Duke Sarcoma Center at DCI, was the emcee.

Brigman invited sarcoma survivor and mother Sharon Alston to share her journey with the crowd, which she did, with wit, faith, and hope.

"Around January, I noticed my arm getting bigger. At my next PCP telehealth visit, my doctor suggested I come in person. We passed it off as a lipoma...She had me get an ultrasound, which basically told us that I had a mass, but not much more... What she said next was a game-changer and would change my LIFE forever," Alston shared. "Why, when someone tells you not to freak out, are you supposed to be calm? She states that she's going to do a referral, stat, to orthopedic oncology. I was referred and had an MRI. Meanwhile, I wait; looking like a deer caught in the headlights, trying not to think about it, keeping it cool, but wanting to lose it, researching, Googling.."

When the results of the MRI came in, Alston met with orthopedic surgical oncologist Will Eward, MD, DVM, who thoroughly explained what he saw and made sure she "had a full understanding of what it might be" — "maybe cancer, maybe not."

She proceeded to undergo a biopsy; receiving her diagnosis four days later — four days before her 50th birthday.

On May 17, 2022, Alston was diagnosed with high-grade undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma in her right upper arm. It's a rare type of cancer that begins mostly in the soft tissues of the body.

On June 1, Alston had her first of 25 radiation therapy treatments — under the care of radiation oncologist Nicole Larrier, MD, MS. She underwent surgery in August, followed by physical therapy and take-home compressive cryotherapy, which combines the effects of cold therapy and compression to ease pain in recovery.

Sharon Alston with a Sarcoma Survivor shirt and her son Cason with a shirt that says "I wear yellow for my mom" stand in front of a dinosaur attraction
Sharon Alston and her son Cason at Strike Out Sarcoma 2022. (photo courtesy of Sharon Alston)

Advice: "A tall glass of sit-down"

Alston, a Durham resident, is already back at work as an instructional technologist specialist and Blackboard System Administrator at North Carolina Central University's Division of Extended Studies.

"Overall, most days I was a trooper. I realized it was all part of the process and I took it in stride," Alston reflected. "I pressed heavy in my faith and belief —to the point that I would have specific songs to remind me that all things work together for my good."

Alston also shared "lessons learned" and a "charge of action" with those gathered 'round to hear her speak.

(some excerpts)

  • "Be proactive with your health; it truly can save your life. Ask questions until you understand.
  • Take a TALL GLASS of SIT DOWN.
  • Make the most of your time and life, especially while you are still here.
  • Put your life affairs in order; DO IT NOW.
  • Check on your loved ones. Realize that family, friends, and caregivers have been through a lot. You ALL are healing and changing.
  • Remember to take a moment and BE.
  • Remember it's where you are going, NOT where you have been."

"Know that every step and stride of this run/walk today was for loved ones and yourself," Alston continued, before closing her speech with plenty of thank-yous and love for her care team  — Eward; Larrier; Nicole Mouser, RN, BSN; Colleen Forbes, RN, BSN, ONC; Mark Binion, MD; Kate Ericson, NP; and Pam Pennigar, FNP, MSN.

She also thanked "many others of the Duke Cancer Sarcoma Clinic family" — all the nurses, the valet staff, environmental services — as well as her local primary care physician, Althea Massenburg, MD, her mom Barbara Alston, and "my 'why' to press through this journey to live, my son Cason."

Afterward, the nervousness that she'd felt as she'd prepared to speak (when she almost lost her notes to the cold wind) had faded away. One by one, other survivors came up to her to share their stories and snap selfies.

Man swings a sledgehammer next to a strongman game with bell
"Strongman" Royce Luke, sarcoma survivor (Oct. 23, 2022)

Let the Games Begin

Seven event sponsors plus the DCI Supportive Care & Survivorship Center and the DCI Community Outreach, Engagement and Equity (COEE) program set up tented tables where they distributed educational materials and DCI swag and chatted with attendees.

Food trucks and a children's area with fun activities, games, and a bounce house also enlivened the event, which was held on a Cary field surrounded by woodland paths and emerging fall foliage. Alston's son Cason played cornhole.

Patients and supporters alike tried their hand at the sledgehammer and bell game popularly known as the "high striker," the "strength tester," or the "strongman game." 

Morrisville resident and five-year survivor Royce "RB" Luke, took a swing. No small feat given that he's missing half of his pelvis as a consequence of surgery in 2017 to treat chondrosarcoma — a rare type of cancer that usually begins in the bones and most often in the pelvis, hip and shoulder. He's had no evidence of disease ever since.

a beach wheelchair in the sand and a selfie of a man and woman at the beach underr a green umbrella
GRATEFUL: Sarcoma survivor Royce Luke and his wife Sarah shared photos of a specialized wheelchair that helped him access the beach this summer — for the first time since his surgery at Duke in 2017. (Okaloosa County, Florida, July 2022)
Woman in a Duke sweatshirt poses with two men and a lady with a jacket in front of blue tents
Royce Luke (center, in gray) with his orthopedic surgical oncologist Will Eward, MD, DVM, Luke's wife Sarah (right) and Luke's nurse Pam Pennigar, FNP, MSN (left) at Strike Out for Sarcoma, Oct. 23, 2022.

From Beach to Zumba

"We had a great morning and loved seeing everyone today," Luke shared in an email to nurse practitioner Pam Pennigar, orthopedic surgical oncologist Will Eward, DVM, PhD, and the entire Sarcoma Center team. "Chair Zumba was a blast. Meeting more survivors made my heart swell."

He also shared a photo of himself and his wife enjoying a Florida beach vacation in July 2022 for the first time since his surgery in 2017 — with the aid of a beach wheelchair — and wanted to share some resources for securing beach wheelchairs at North Carolina beaches: Corolla to Ocracoke || Emerald Isle || Wrightsville Beach || Carolina Beach (plus, from Spectrum News) || Ocean Isle Beach

This page was reviewed on 11/03/2022