Friends, family and strangers run to help lung cancer victim

CREATED Dec 2, 2012

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Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Friends -- and total strangers -- teamed up Sunday to raise money for a medical student fighting lung cancer. 

They know the science of medicine can still use a boost from the power of caring.

As runners lined up on the U of A mall, they knew they were running for the life of Derek Neal.

He's a nurse, a med student at U of A and a man with a rare form of lung cancer. It's not related to smoking, but it's just as much of a killer.
What Derek knows about medicine made the diagnosis hit even harder.

"My wife says I let out a combination of sounds, a moan and a wail, kind of thing," he says.

Organizers hope runners paying entry fees and buying T-shirts will help cover the costs Derek's insurance will not.
When his classmates at the UA Medical School heard Derek's diagnosis, they knew he needed money, but also something more.

KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked race organizer Christopher Shultz: "How much does morale count when you're fighting a disease like cancer?"

Shultz: "Oh I think it's huge and I don't have any papers to cite for you, but there's definitely instances where people's lives extend beyond where they expect based on their expectations and support in life and times where they don't because they lack that. So having a support system is definitely huge, knowing you're not going through it alone."

Derek's grateful for all the help from his med school classmates, and his nursing colleagues from Diamond Children's Hospital.

Craig Smith asked one of those colleagues, nurse Victoria Beall: "When you're a medical professional and you understand what's happening with somebody, does that make it harder when a friend is ill?"

Beall: "It does. It does. It really does. Our hearts go out to Derek. We cry with him. We cry for him.  We cry for a family. It's very hard, but we've seen miracles in the medical profession."
Then there's the help that comes in from strangers.

Derek Neal says, "And people we've never met have shown up to bring us meals, to offer their encouragement, to donate time or money. It's been phenomenal, so this -- this is awesome."
The three fastest strangers in this race came from the Arizona Tricats triathlon team. They easily outpaced the other runners.

Travis Burkel placed first.  He says: "The team doesn't really know who he is all that much but we're doing what we can to help out and give back because one day it might be us in that position."

Derek Neal says: "Thank you for continued support and I feel very blessed to have the support we have."

Derek Neal's wife has been writing a web blog about the family's experience. You can also donate through Derek's site if you like.