This past Friday, chemistry students gathered at Turner Track to run 22 miles in support of Knox College Professor of Chemistry Larry Welch, who has been undergoing cancer treatment this year at the Mayo Clinic.
The chemistry students organized their relay in support of Welch in conjunction with Alpha Phi Omega’s (APO) Run-A-Thon, and the chemistry team ran 22 miles in honor of Welch’s 22 years of service at Knox. Ten people ran on the chemistry team to show solidarity with Welch and his struggle.
The idea behind the Relay for Larry and other events like Dress Like Larry Welch Day has been to show support for Welch as he undergoes chemotherapy.
“[Larry] had hoped to be back teaching by April, but he’s not … Larry’s very beloved around here,” Chemistry Lab Coordinator Sara Patterson, ’09, said.
Dress Like Larry Welch Day involved chemistry students dressing like their beloved professor and wearing his “trademark hat, glasses and tucked-in shirt,” Patterson said, adding that a lab manual with a picture had been sent to Welch.
All of the events held by Knox’s chemistry students have made a positive impression on Welch.
“They definitely put a smile on my face. It reminds a person of how lucky they are to go to work and interact with a group of nice young people like the students at Knox,” Welch wrote in an email.
The first thing that was organized to show support for Welch was a poster signed with messages from many of the majors and chemistry students which was given to Welch. The Relay for Larry was a way for students to show their solidarity with Welch on a deeply personal level.
“When you start out [running] you’re warming up and getting prepared mentally, just like with chemo, but it’s a relay, and there are people there to support you … and in the end you’re really tired and achy,” sophomore chemistry major Kelli Huebner said, adding that while running was clearly not the same as cancer, the experience helped her feel closer to Welch. Huebner ran for five of the 22 miles of the relay.
“It was a really good way to support him because it’s the same kind of process [as chemotherapy]. You have to start out mentally preparing yourself for this ordeal, and it’s really tough,” Huebner said.
Welch wrote about his battle with cancer, saying that, “Physically, I’m on kind of a roller coaster depending on where I am in my treatment cycle. … I was in pretty good physical condition before this started, and I think that helped as the treatment progressed and my physical state inevitably went downhill.”
In particular, the struggle for Welch has been the psychological effects of having cancer.
“The mental thing is a challenge at times — it has been stressed from many different sources (including my oncologist) that being upbeat and positive is crucial during cancer treatment, yet despite your best efforts you have moments of doubt that creep into your head. You don’t expect to be facing your mortality at age 49, and it’s easy to start
thinking of all of the unfinished business that you have,” he said.
The positive attitudes of everyone at the Mayo Clinic have contributed a great deal to Welch’s outlook on life, as have the support of his family, friends, colleagues and students. Having cancer has changed the way that Welch views his day-to-day life.
“You start to realize how each day is a blessing, and how important it is to use that gift to contribute something to the world,” Welch wrote. “The introspection hasn’t been all negative.”
In the short run, Welch is hopeful about the future. “In the big picture perspective, I don’t really know how things stand with my health, and I won’t until later this summer when some follow-up scans are taken … If you see me marching at opening convocation next year with a big smile on my face, that will be a pretty good sign.”
Through it all, it seems that Welch’s students will be with him. Huebner, describing her thoughts about the run, said the process was “relaying through the chemo and relaying through the laps.”
She hopes that Welch will be present at graduation. No matter what, though, Welch wrote that “I just want to thank the Knox community for everything that they have done for me and my family. I won’t ever forget it.”