Student walks 39 miles for mother in New York City


Lilah’s Roses members Anne-Marie Eisendorfer, Christine Fox, Maureen Parrish, Leigh Parrish, Michelle Parrish, Jane McNally and Debbie Parrish pose for a picture at the Avon Walk finish line.

Amy Yu, Co-Editor in Chief

There are just a few scarves left, worn by her mother. There are also early, fragmented memories of golf tournaments and other fundraisers to raise money for her mother’s cause. There are bit and pieces stories from those who actually remember—her mother was an awful driver. Loved to water-ski when she was younger. Cared for everybody.

Senior Leigh Parrish doesn’t know much about her mother, whom she lost to breast cancer, other than that.

Leigh participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York City, New York, on Oct. 21-22. She was one of 3500 walkers who covered 39 miles around the city and raised $3.4 million for breast cancer research.

“I went up [to New York] with my oldest sister Michelle and Maureen, my step mom,” Leigh said. “We met up there with two of my aunts who have survived breast cancer. One of them is my dad’s sister…the other one is my dad’s sister-in-law.”

Leigh and her family signed up for the walk during the summer, when they also registered to be in a group of 15 women called Lilah’s Roses. Each walker paid $40 in dues as well as raising a minimum of $1800 for breast cancer research; those funds were then divvied up by Avon for hospitals and research institutions across the city.

Although the walk itself was grueling, the experience helped put Leigh’s own struggles into perspective.

“You’re supposed to train for [this walk], but I didn’t,” Leigh said. “I have too much pride to stop, you know? And yeah it was really hard, but one of the signs that really hit us all said ‘blisters don’t need chemo’. Just this little pain is nothing compared to what the patients are going through.”

Leigh said that she was “very excited” to experience the walk, especially since in previous years she was too young to participate with her family.

“My two sisters and Maureen did the Susan G. Komen’s three-day walk my freshman year,” Leigh said. “It was just exciting to actually do it because my freshman year I wasn’t old enough—you have to be 16. This is the first time we’ve done the Avon one. It was really cool [for the family] to do it all at the same time.”

Leigh’s biological mother, Tama Parrish, lost her battle with breast cancer in 1999.

“I was two [when my mother died],” Leigh said. “She died when she was 36 [after] a two-year battle [with cancer]. I know stories, and I see all kinds of pictures and videos but I don’t really remember. … I was just too young to realize it.”

The Parrish sisters were barely in elementary school when their mother died, but they remember clearly the impact that her death had on their family.

“It tore apart our way of life and what we were kind of used to,” 2007 Cinco Ranch graduate Michelle Parrish said. “It’s something that can never be changed back. We depended on our dad for a lot. He used to do our hair for us, and we taught him to braid the hair on a Barbie doll. He did the best he could, and I don’t think I missed out on anything in my life.”

Michelle also remembers their mother as someone who both cared for others and was loved in return.

“I remember seeing so, so many people we knew [at the funeral],” she said. “And so many people we didn’t know. [It was] amazing how many people cared. I just remember everyone being very emotional and it was hard to see all the people around us.”

According to Leigh, cancer patients are not the only ones affected by the disease. She cites a presentation by Reese Witherspoon in New York for reminding her that the “mental” aspects of cancer can often be just as unpleasant as the physical treatment, as well as the adverse effects the disease has on the victim’s loved ones.

“People don’t realize how much it affects the people around the [victim],” she said. “I think that people that have never been affected understand it is bad, but not how much it hurts the ‘other ones’. They don’t realize how much it affects everyone else.”

Leigh is also thankful for the Katy community’s response to her efforts to promote awareness. As a varsity athletic trainer, she uses pink tape, the color of breast cancer awareness, to wrap football players’ injuries with during their games.

“It means so much for me that people are giving their time and money and help. I appreciate it,” Leigh said. “Some of the football players will come up and ask for the pink tape if they want their wrists wrapped or whatever, and it means so much. Every little thing helps.”

Regardless of how remote the death of her mother felt, Leigh remains passionate about spreading breast cancer awareness and raising funds to aid its victims. Her family founded the Tama Herman Parrish Foundation in honor of Leigh’s mother, which awards an annual scholarship to one female high school student in the Stamford, CT, area.

“Every year they have a scholarship that goes to a girl at one of the high schools that has the same morals and personality that my mom [had],” Leigh said. “Someone that cares for the community [and is] a team player.”

Michelle said she also continues to learn from her mother’s battle with cancer and is more cognizant of how closely the illness has touched to her family.

“I try to be very conscious of the value of life,” she said. “Anything can happen to anybody, so you need to be careful and make sure you take care of yourself. I’m no one special and it could happen to me too.”

Leigh described her experience in New York as “just incredible”.

“I want to do whatever I can to shed light on breast cancer and find a cure,” Leigh said. “That’s why I’m doing it—because of my mom. Too many good people have been affected by breast cancer and it is time for change.”