A 5K Fun Run will be held Sunday at the NCAT Test Track in Opelika from noon to 5 p.m. to raise money for her medical expenses.
The event will include carnival games, inflatables, face painting, wagon rides and more.
Kathi Correia, one of the race organizers and a family friend of the Parkers, said she’s excited about the opportunity the race has given the community to put to their love for the Parker family into action.
“It helps them feel like they’re able to do something, but it also teaches them … you don’t need to be some major corporation to do something to help somebody,” Correia said. “I think that’s important for all of the kids in this community.”
Parker was diagnosed at 7 years old with mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, a rare form of cancer of the cartilage and soft tissue. After a persistent sinus infection, it was discovered she had a tumor approximately the size of a lemon in her head.
The discovery began a long battle the family has waged to fight the cancer.
Parker has had multiple surgeries, including operations to her skull and face, chemotherapy and unexpected relapses.
“She doesn’t know how to not fight,” said Miki Parker, Carly’s mom.
While the cancer is aggressive, the Parkers have learned to live in the moment and be thankful for each day they have as a family.
“We just … treat one day at a time, and we enjoy it,” said Scott Parker, Carly’s dad.
Miki and Scott Parker both said their faith has been a huge part of the family’s journey. The family attends Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on North College Street.
“People always say, ‘How do y’all do it?’” Scott Parker said.
Miki Parker said they’ve relied on friends, church family and their faith for support.
“I think it’s important that we show the world that this is what’s important to us,” Scott Parker said.
Miki Parker said their reaction to the disease has been crucial to how they’ve handled the situation.
“It is what it is,” Parker said. “It’s always gonna be there; it’s always gonna be part of our lives. But it’s what you make of it, and Carly makes it so easy.”
One outlet that has proved particularly important for Carly Parker is her love of ballet, Miki Parker said.
Parker described a time when her daughter had developed an aversion for taking capsule pills and was unable to keep one down.
She told her to imagine she was dancing.
“Swallow the pill,” Parker said, “and as you swallow the pill, picture yourself doing a perfect pirouette, and she did. Her dance gets her through the rough parts.”
Carly Parker recently danced at a Camp Smile-A-Mile fundraiser, an organization that helps children with cancer.
She said dancing makes her feel normal; it’s who she is.
Along with her love for dance, Parker has become known for her slogan, “STAND with Carly.”
Her parents said the phrase originated from a rough time during their daughter’s treatment when they were juggling going back and forth between the hospital to stay with her.
One day Miki Parker said she was particularly drained.
She got in the car after leaving the hospital, turned on the radio and the song “Stand” by Rascal Flatts was playing.
Part of the chorus says, “Cause when push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of. You might bend till you break cause it’s all you can take. On your knees you look up, decide you’ve had enough. You get mad, you get strong. Wipe your hands, shake it off, then you stand.”
The song has become their anthem.
Parker said her daughter will listen to it when she has a relapse or doing mundane things like taking a shower.
“It’s a perfect illustration of what we had to do,” Scott Parker said.
While inspiration and perseverance are key, the family is constantly focused on finding a cure.
Correia and the Parkers stress the importance of raising awareness about childhood cancer and of giving blood.
“We want to help the Parkers, but it really has sparked for me to really get involved in childhood cancer,” Correia said. “This exists. This isn’t just on TV as a St. Jude’s commercial. It’s real.”
Miki Parker said their focus is on a solution.
“We want that cure,” Parker said. “Not just for Carly’s type of cancer, but for every type of cancer. We don’t want another family to go through what we’ve gone through.”
The run is being organized by the Childs, Correia and Timm families.
Correia said they are trying to appeal to all ages and hope the day will not only be a time to raise awareness, but a time to enjoy life.
All proceeds are going to the Carly Marie Parker Fund at Auburn Bank.
For more information on the race visit carlyfunrun.org.