One million steps

Jim Wigginton runs the steps at the Rogel Cancer Center parking structure in Ann Arbor Sunday, July 26, 2020 followed by Drs. Frank Worden and Megan Haymart. Wigginton donated money in his late wife's name to the Punya Thyroid Research Center. (Kirthmom F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

DETROIT A Belleville, Mich., man completed his sixth world record alongside the doctors who cared for his wife before she died of thyroid cancer.

On the seventh anniversary of the Nancy Wigginton's death, her husband, Jim Wigginton, 71, was honored Sunday after completing the final steps in his latest mission to set a world record for the fastest time to climb and descend 1 million stairs. The certificate was awarded by the World Record Academy after Jim completed the challenge in 135 days.

Nancy Wigginton died of thyroid cancer on July 26, 2013, and a week later, her husband created the Punya Thyroid Cancer Research Foundation. Today, all of his world records have been accomplished under the foundation's name and are aimed at raising awareness of thyroid cancer.

"We want to continue to keep increasing the length of life and the quality of life for people with stage four thyroid cancer," Wigginton said. "I'm highly focused on it, not just because my wife had thyroid cancer, but for such a tiny amount of money, you could have a significant improvement in the mortality rate and the quality of life."

Wigginton, who wears a necklace with a bird pendant that holds some of his wife's ashes, doesn't really see climbing some of the world's highest mountains, skydiving out of airplanes and diving in a submarine to the lowest part of the ocean as a big deal.

"I feel an obligation, for all of those people, to pay it forward and do something meaningful for all of them," Wigginton said. "For my wife, for the cancer center, for thyroid cancer, for the two doctors, for people who can't do these things and also be an inspiration for people who could."

Wigginton was joined by some of his family members, including his son Brent Wigginton, who has participated in some of his father's adventurous challenges to honor Nancy. Brent says his mother always wanted to travel to see what the world had to offer.

"She was really selfless and cared more about everybody else than herself," said Brent. "She loved to travel, loved to see the world and loved to meet new people whether it was down the street or in China or Europe."

Wigginton completed climbing his last set of stairs to meet his goal accompanied by Michigan Medicine's endocrinologist physician Megan Haymart and medical oncologist physician Frank Worden, who are the doctors that assisted Nancy while she was cared for in the Rogel Cancer Center in Ann Arbor.

"I think what's most meaningful for me is that this is the anniversary of Nancy's death, who was our patient," Worden said. "I have to say, I thought about her as I was walking up and down the steps and how much she meant to both Megan and myself. And I know how dear she was to Jim."

John Carethers, professor and chairman of the department of internal medicine, also added: "He's definitely passionate about his wife and her care, so I think this has grown into something that he not only cares deeply about, but something that looks durable to people."

Haymart said thyroid cancer it is the 12th most common cancer in the United States and the fifth most common cancer in women. Haymart says thyroid cancer can affect young individuals as well, being the most common cancer for people under the age of 33.

"It just isn't studied as much as other cancers," said Haymart. "So we really want to do more to improve the care of our patients through better research. We really need the support of individuals like Jim."

The Rogel Cancer Center will continue to receive support from Wigginton because he is not done raising awareness. Wigginton set out to complete a 1,000-mile military rucksack challenge, but has already completed 2,000 miles and plans to reach 2,500. He also plans to complete a night-time parachute jump in Poland and the world's highest landing in the Himalayas when travel restrictions are lifted.

To donate or learn more about the Punya Thyroid Cancer Research Foundation, visit the Michigan Medicine website.

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