Local brain tumor survivors, patients and those who have lost loved ones will head to the Wilmington Riverfront on April 26 to participate in the Delaware Brain Tumor Walk, which last year raised $200,000 for research and awareness.

It’s been three years since Odessa resident Karen O’Brien lost her husband, Chris, to a brain tumor.

And for the third straight year, she’ll be honoring his memory by participating in the Delaware Brain Tumor Walk at Wilmington Riverfront on April 26.

“It’s a really special feeling when you go and feel all the camaraderie among the people who have experienced what you’ve gone through or are going through it now,” she said. “I love to reconnect with all the teams and offer my support to all the new participants.”

O’Brien first attended the walk with her husband in 2009, the year after he was diagnosed with Grade II astrocytoma.

“It started in the winter of 2008 when he started getting headaches every time he bent down to pick up the paper,” she said. “We thought it was a sinus infection but it didn’t go away so he went to the doctor and eventually got a CAT scan that showed this tumor that might have been growing for 10 or 15 years.”

Chris underwent chemotherapy, as well as radiation treatment. But in 2010, doctors discovered a second tumor that took his life in October 2011

“I think attending the walk helped him to just realize there were other people going through the same thing, because the survivor rate is not as high as other cancers,” she said. “That’s why I go back, to give that same support to others.”

Nearly 700,000 people in the United States are living with a primary brain tumor, while another 69,000 expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS), which has operated the walk since merging with the Kelly Heinz Grundner Foundation in 2010.

“Only one out of three adults diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor today will be alive in five years,” said N. Paul TonThat, the chief executive officer of NBTS. “More so than any other cancer, brain tumors have life-altering psychological, cognitive, behavioral and physical effects. And yet, despite these facts, brain tumor research remains grossly underfunded.”

Last year, the Delaware Brain Tumor Walk raised nearly $200,000 for that research, as well as raising awareness, thanks to sponsors and donations, many of which came from teams of walkers who hold their own fundraisers in advance of the event, according to NBTS events director Ashley Brennan.

About 1,600 people are expected to attend this year’s event, which has already raised nearly $116,000.

In addition to raising research funding and remembering those who have lost their lives to brain tumors, the 3-mile walk also gives survivors, like 29-year-old Middletown resident Stephan Francisco, a chance to provide encouragement to those who have recently been diagnosed.

Francisco was diagnosed with hypothalamic astrocytoma glioma at the age of 2.

Initially given less than 24 hours to live, he had a tumor the size of a softball removed from his brain and shunts inserted into his head to help relieve the pressure. During the ensuing 27-months of chemotherapy treatments, Francisco’s veins collapsed and he became the first child in Delaware to have a Port-A-Cath used during his treatments.

While the tumor cost him his vision in one eye and damaged his sight in the other, he remains cancer-free 27 years later and now goes in for route MRIs once a year.

“I’m living proof that there is hope,” he said. “I survived and now I get help others with their journeys and their struggles. That’s why I love the Brain Tumor Walk. It gives me a chance to encourage people to keep going because there is hope.”

To register as a participant, volunteer or sponsor of the Delaware Brain Tumor Walk, visit www.braintumorwalk.org/delware.