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'Childhood cancer is a marathon' | Father walks 26.2 miles to honor sick daughter

Joe Phillips wanted to recognize the marathon of children getting a cancer diagnosis. He watched his own daughter fight it, who has a brain tumor.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The end of Childhood Cancer Awareness month is approaching, and one Knoxville dad spent Saturday walking a marathon for his daughter. She is battling cancer.

For Joe Phillips, every step on the Halls greenway path was symbolic.

"I'm totally depending on God to get me through this today," Phillips said. "He's gonna give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other."

He's walking 26.2 miles, a full marathon — always keeping his daughter Tillery on his mind. She's fighting her own battle with cancer after doctors found that she had a brain tumor.

"As a dad with a child with cancer, I can't do much," Phillips said. "I can't do any operations or procedures, I can't create any medicine, but I can walk. So I'm gonna walk today."

It's all part of a fundraiser for the nonprofit Alex's Lemonade Stand. Every dollar raised goes toward childhood cancer research. The Phillips family has raised over $25,000 alone, with contributions from family and friends.

Phillips recalled a time six years ago when his family needed to be in Cincinnati so Tillery could receive proper medical care for the tumor, but they didn't have the money to buy a hotel room.

Alex's Lemonade Stand pitched in and provided them with one, free of charge. One night, while in the room, Tillery woke up in the middle of the night screaming and they were able to rush her to the Cincinnati hospital in time to discover she had blood clots that needed to be addressed. The Phillips family believes the nonprofit helped save Tillery's life.

Phillips even shaved his head and beard earlier in the month to celebrate.

For Phillips, raising money to help research isn't just about helping a good cause. For him, it's personal. Alana Phillips, her mother, said the family is so passionate about fundraising because they believe there's a cure out there.

"We are hoping for research that can change the outcome for our daughter," Alana Phillips said.

Tillery was first diagnosed with cancer six years ago when she was only 15 months old. Since then, she has had 17 surgeries, two years of chemotherapy and three and a half years where her tumor was stable. 

In July, they found out her tumor has regrowth. In the last couple of months, they’ve been consulting with medical teams and will probably begin treatment next week.

So right now, we don't have a cure for her," Alana Phillips said. "She will always be a cancer patient, and when she was first diagnosed her doctor told us this is not a sprint, it's a marathon. She’ll always have that tumor and will just throughout life go on and off treatment.”

But they don't want that to be her story. They want a cure.

"We're gonna do the best we can as parents," Alana Phillips said. "This second time around diagnosis has been really hard because the options we’re given aren’t great.”

So, they walk. For Tillery and for every child in the marathon that is cancer.

People can donate to Tillery's TIL Foundation fundraiser by clicking here. The family is participating in "The Million Mile 2020" and Volvo is matching all donations this weekend.

You can keep up with Tillery's journey on the Facebook page Tillery is Loved.