There was no dance floor that didn’t appeal to Dennis Trackwell.
At weddings, reunions and backyard barbecues, the southside Indianapolis resident was known to break out his best moves and boogie. On vacation, the family would usually have a deck party once the music fired up.
He would dance in the middle of the day, seemingly for no reason at all. He had a zest for life, said Devon Scott, his daughter.
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“He loved anything, any kind of upbeat music,” she said. “We used to have impromptu dance parties. I remember my high school graduation open house, dancing in our living room.”
Trackwell died from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, in 2013. But his fun-loving spirit lives on through his family and friends. Dancing for Dennis is a yearly fundraiser founded to honor Trackwell, as well as to raise money for myeloma research and enhanced patient care at Indiana University Health.
“It’s basically a big, huge party,” Scott said. “We wanted to celebrate my dad’s life, while also doing something good for someone else. There are so many people who have this same disease.”
Organizers have been raising money throughout the year, including a painting event at Craft and Cork art studio in Greenwood, and an ’80s-themed skating party in June.
But the main event will feature a silent auction, dinner and, of course, dancing. Proceeds will benefit Miles for Myeloma, a bicycle race charity that focuses on myeloma.
“It’s allowed the family to take a precious memory of Dennis, and really immortalize him and keep his memory alive, along with keeping their relationship alive with his care team,” said Lizzie Conkle, assistant director of development for Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center
Miles for Myeloma was founded by Dr. Rafat Abonour, an Indiana University myeloma researcher and IU Health physician, to help find a cure for the disease. The two-day cycling event has raised more than $3.3 million for multiple myeloma research at the IU Simon Cancer Center.
Money being raised last year and this year will help hire a myeloma nurse navigator position, helping patients and their families handle all of the appointments, different doctors and myriad commitments necessary for treatment.
“The goal of the event was to raise hope and support for myeloma patients and their families,” Conkle said. “It’s a way for the patient to connect patient to patient, and caregiver to caregiver, to create networks of support for those diagnosed with a rare blood cancer.”
Trackwell grew up in Indianapolis, served in the U.S. Air Force until 1966 and went on to work 40 years at Eli Lilly and Co.
He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December 2006. After a seemingly minor fall, Trackwell seemed to have a lingering injury in his abdomen that didn’t feel right. Doctors told him he had a broken rib, a red flag for multiple myeloma.
The cancer forms from plasma cells that multiply uncontrollably. Malignant plasma cells can form tumors on the bones or elsewhere in the body. Low blood counts, infections and weakened bones can result from the disease.
Trackwell received his diagnosis right as he was preparing to retire from Eli Lilly.
“It was so bittersweet. At his retirement party, he hadn’t told anyone and everyone was asking what he was going to do now,” Scott said. “All of us were thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to fight cancer.’”
But Trackwell was defined by his positive, upbeat nature, seeing the bright side of situations even when there didn’t appear to be one, Scott said.
His doctors recommended a stem-cell transplant to infuse his body with healthy red blood cells, and for three years Trackwell went into remission. But in 2009, he was diagnosed again. The cancer this time attacked his kidneys, forcing him onto dialysis for the rest of his life.
After Trackwell died on Aug. 1, 2013, family and friends grieved. As part of that grieving process, Scott had an overwhelming need do something cathartic to ease the emotional burden.
“His birthday is in September, so a month after he died, I put a message up on Facebook asking people to put on their favorite song and dance like they don’t have a care in the world, and if anyone asks, say you’re dancing for Dennis” she said. “I had all of these people sending me pictures and videos of that day.”
Scott had initially wanted to establish a benefit 5K to raise awareness and money for multiple myeloma, but opted instead for a dance that kids and adults could all take part in.
The event will be held at Primo Banquet Hall & Conference Center on the southside. Tickets includes dinner, beer and wine. A special kids area will be set up, with students from Roncalli High School helping to entertain the younger guests so the adults can dance and enjoy dinner themselves, Scott said.
Last year, more than 400 people attended, and $10,000 was raised for Miles for Myeloma.
“It really does mean everything that they’ve worked so hard on this,” Conkle said. “Miles for Myeloma event came about through patients, and it really is a joint effort between patients and the myeloma care team. Having the family involved in this effort speaks to the care that Dennis received and the connection that the family made with his doctor.”
Organizing the food, location and army of sponsors means that the Trackwell family works year-round to prepare for the event. But though it’s hard work, the impact Dancing for Dennis has had makes it all worthwhile, Scott said.
“My dad was always one who told us to put ourselves out there, to do things that maybe were uncomfortable,” she said. “I feel like this is what we’re supposed to do. I think he’s proud that we’re doing this, and in the meantime, we’ve met so many people who have been affected by this.”
Dancing for Dennis
What: A dinner, dance and silent auction in honor of Dennis Trackwell, a southside resident who died from multiple myeloma in 2013.
When: 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Aug. 12
Where: Primo Banquet Hall & Conference Center, 2614 National Ave., Indianapolis
Cost: Adults $30 in advance, $35 at the door; children $15; kids 6 and under free
Benefits: The event raises money for Miles for Myeloma, a fundraiser that benefits multiple myeloma research at IU Simon Cancer Center and myeloma patients at Indiana University Health.
Information and tickets: Facebook.com/dancingfordennis or dancingfordennis.weebly.com