Walking through the School of Communication courtyard, senior Jackie Landes cradled a box filled to the brim with shirts, hats, sunglasses and socks, all bearing the Wendy Walk logo. With her enthusiastic demeanor, Landes, who lost her mother to liposarcoma only a month ago, was gearing up for a local fund-raising walk that bears her mother’s name.
Landes’ journey with the Wendy Walk began in 2008 when the family found out that Wendy Landes was diagnosed with this rare type of cancer, which develops from fat cells. Research for a cure is not one of the projects funded by cancer organizations such as the American Cancer Society. For her fundraising efforts, Landes will be receiving the Student of Distinction Award Thursday at the Newman Alumni Center.
“I thought I had the best mom in the entire world. She was my best friend,” Landes said. “We found out there was no research for this cancer and we were going forward with no hope trying to find a cure.”
In 2010, Landes, along with her brother and sister, established Wendy Walk in hopes of finding a cure for liposarcoma. The annual walks — which have raised more than $1 million and funded two international research initiatives — take place in the three cities where family members live.
Landes co-chaired the South Florida walk, which took place last Sunday in Miami Beach. There is also one scheduled for April 28 in New York City, where her sister Ali lives, and another on May 5 in Los Angeles, where her brother Matt lives. The walks started off small, mainly comprised of people who knew Wendy.
Landes said her mother’s strength and courage throughout her treatment process motivated the siblings to put together the Wendy Walk.
“My mom never believed she was sick,” Landes said. “My mom was just a bad-ass strong person who wanted to live and would take every second she could to live her life to the fullest.”
According to Landes, a typical Facebook post on the Wendy Walk page would be: Wendy has four days between chemo treatments and here she is rock climbing in Utah.
“After seeing an image of my mom like that, I think people wanted to keep her alive and wanted to create hope because she is such a person who got what life was about,” Landes said.
Rebecca Fox, chief of staff for UM President Donna E. Shalala and the dean of Continuing and International Education, met Landes when the senior asked for help promoting Wendy Walk. Fox immediately noticed Landes’ passion for the cause and was impressed by her drive.
“She appreciated what it takes to get something done and she was prepared to do anything to get this done in the way she and her siblings wanted to,” Fox said. “She’s a person who once you’ve met her you don’t easily forget her.”
Alexander Norton, a friend of Landes’ who helps with public relations for Wendy Walk, agreed.
“Working with her is incredible because she experienced a loss, but she is so dedicated and devoted,” Norton said. “I don’t know how she does it while managing school and the walk. She always has a smile on her face.”
Landes remembers an inspiring experience she had at her mother’s funeral where she spoke to a girl who knew her mother through chemotherapy treatments. The girl has the same type of cancer that her mother had.
“I really realized at that moment how important what I was doing was,” Landes said.
So on Sunday Landes and her siblings walked not only in memory of their mother but also for those who have the same disease. Landes knows her work is far from being done.
“It’s up to my family to find a cure for this horrible disease and I don’t see myself stopping ever until I find a cure,” she said.