When caregivers have lived through the same struggles their patients and families are enduring, bonds are formed. Kelly Dunbar, R.N., a pediatric oncology nurse at the Children’s Center at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque, N.M., has made such special connections.

At the age of 2, Dunbar’s son required a bone marrow transplant to cure a genetic immunodeficiency syndrome. “We lived for months with other families going through cancer treatments,” Dunbar says. “During that time it was really, really hard to ask for things, but it was really nice when they showed up.”

Inspired by the support she received during and after her son’s operation, Dunbar decided to start a race to raise funds for families who have children with cancer. “I’ve always been a runner, so the first thing that came to mind was to put on a race,” she says. Thus was born the Cross Country Courage Classic and Kids K for Cancer run, which has raised approximately $47,000 since its inception in 2011.

Dunbar had some connections to local running shops and other runners who helped to spread the word. She also used to coach cross-country and track at Albuquerque Academy, where the race and 5K walks are held. A silent auction adds to the fundraising.

Dunbar says many of the roughly 300 participants are former or current patients and their families. “After the race, we have an annual family reunion picnic for all our oncology kids,” she says.

Jennifer Landman, administrator at the Children’s Center at Presbyterian, says the reunion picnic has been particularly meaningful for families. “It’s a nice way for them to reconnect if their kids were in treatment together, as well as for them to see staff when they’re out of therapy,” she says.

And she praises Dunbar’s dedication to putting on the event. “It’s amazing, how much work she does,” Landman says. “She really spends a lot of time and doesn’t give herself enough credit for all the work she does to make this a huge success every year.” From getting T-shirts made, to collecting donations for the silent auction, to lining and marking the course, setting up post-race food, finding a musician, and taking care of all the volunteers, plus many more tasks — there is a lot to be done.

The funds raised during the run/walk are passed to the Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation, which then distributes the money to families, with a small amount going to continuing education for Presbyterian’s pediatric oncology nurses. Families may access the money to help pay everyday bills, cover medical expenses, travel out-of-state for specialized medical treatments, or anything else they may need. “One family had a lot of car problems, and only one vehicle. We helped with needed car repairs so they could bring their child in for treatment,” Landman says. “We hope it helps families get through a very difficult and financially challenging time,” she says.

The foundation also stocks a toy closet that kids can access whenever they have a painful procedure. “And for every new diagnosis, we give each child a new stuffed animal and a really comfy blanket,” Dunbar says.

Dunbar is looking forward to the race’s sixth year this September, which coincides with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Landman says Dunbar’s enthusiasm is partly why she’s an exceptional pediatric oncology nurse. “She’s a phenomenal person who’s very, very committed to these patients, and truly touches the lives of every patient and every family,” she says. “She is committed to making sure that they get all the care they need, and the financial piece is part of that.”