While Tessa Kaneene stood in the bathroom with her dad and sister preparing her mom for an appointment, she got a notification on her phone and gasped. A slight air of concern filled the room. Her mother Frances Kaneene had been battling uterine cancer for eight years, and they weren’t sure what Tessa read.
“No, Michigan State just sent they are opening up a scholarship in your name,” Tessa said to her mom.
Frances worked as an undergraduate student adviser in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the scholarship will go to students who wish to study abroad.
A single tear rolled down Frances’ cheek. She had mostly lost the ability to speak a few days earlier but was able to say one thing.
“Wow, wow, wow,” Frances said.
When Frances was first diagnosed, some estimates were that she only had eight months left to live, but because of her physical fitness, she lived eight more years before her death last summer.
Even during her cancer treatments, she would go for runs. She was a part of a running team called Playmakers and also participated in many charity races over her lifetime. Tessa wanted to celebrate this important part of her mom’s life by putting on a walk and run 5K event to raise money for the scholarship fund.
“I wanted it to be for something that hopefully is powerful, for those that knew or love her or even just others in the community, but then to also create a beautiful experience,” Tessa said.
The event will take place at Hawk Island in Lansing at 9 a.m. on Sept. 12, her mom’s birthday. The Playmakers women’s team runs at this location and Frances’s presence is there with her ashes.
The event will also be offered virtually, allowing people to walk or run from wherever they may be if they are not able to make it to the area.
“There’s just a lot of sentimental value for that space, and so, it’ll be an opportunity for folks to gather fully,” Tessa said. “Now, fingers crossed, as things are looking a little bit better with COVID, all of her siblings will be able to be there, and community, and so many friends and family.”
One of Frances’ best friends, Sara Aikman, is working as a volunteer coordinator for the event. Aikman talked to Frances almost every day. She ran with Frances and their friend Bobbi Krasuski regularly. They called their friend group "Las Tres Amigas."
“When people are running together, at least in my experience and especially with women, we just solve all of the problems of the world while we’re running,” Aikman said. “You talk about anything and everything and it just gave us a special closeness. I think we shared deeply personal things on our runs.”
The Playmakers coach, Debbie Richards, is co-directing the 5K. She said she remembers the day Frances was diagnosed.
“I don’t care where you’d run into Frances, she always had this smile and a calm presence about her, a very friendly ... sense of being,” Richards said. “But on that day, I could tell a little sparkle was missing out of her eyes.”
Richards is thankful she gets to participate in this event celebrating Frances’ life. She is working with Michelle O’Kelly to direct the race.
“It’s like a perfect way to honor her, it’s all of her passions all morphed into one event,” O’Kelly said. “The fact that she loved being active, loved bringing people together, loved the training team.”
The registration process involves signing up for a virtual race or the in-person event. Those who are unable to can also donate to the scholarship fund. At the in-person event, they plan to bring people together with food trucks, music and more.
“There is a big pull for a lot of people in the community to want to help support in some way,” Richards said.
Jeane Stebleton, another Playmaker member, is also an academic adviser in the same position Frances used to hold and is working on the shirt design for the race with Tessa. The shirts will have a photo of Frances running.
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“We really wanted to show Frances’ smile and her personality and make sure that that was present on the shirt so everybody remembers her and her brightness that she brought,” Stebleton said.
She hopes the race brings out Frances’ impact.
“I just think this opportunity for people, for those who didn’t know Frances but get to hear about her through the race and everything will be wonderful because we need to have more people like her on this planet,” Stebleton said.
Working with the same students that Frances advised, Stebleton notices the influence she had on the department.
“She always made students feel welcome, like a member of her family, so that if they needed anything, she was always there for them,” Stebleton said. “She was able to make every single student feel special.”
Tessa is excited to donate toward the scholarship with the extra funds from the race. She hopes in its following years, the 5K can continue to raise money for students’ experiences.
“(I hope) to have an ongoing supply to allow students to have the opportunities and experiences that she so advocated for and so thought that were so beautiful and so opening and for one to experience in their lifetime,” Tessa said. “And that is the ability to have an experience internationally by way of study abroad.”
People are able to donate directly on the 5K's website, offering the opportunity for people who are unable to participate in the walk or run to contribute. They are over halfway to their $6,000 donation goal.
Tessa's goal is to uplift the legacy of her mom.
“If we can, in any way, shape, or form, continue her work, even if imperfectly and not with the same heart that she had,” Tessa said.
Aikman expressed her admiration toward Frances as well.
“Everybody I know that knew her wants to try to be a better person because of her, myself included,” Aikman said. “I strive to be just a fraction as good as she was.”
She knows that her and the community’s involvement in the upcoming 5K would make Frances proud.
“She just was the most special person I’ve ever known,” Aikman said. “There is a huge loss to her family, friends and the community. I’m just really, really happy to be able to do this. I can close my eyes and see her beautiful smile in reaction to it.”
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