On April 16, 2018, 102 runners will participate in the 122nd Boston Marathon on behalf of MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). These individuals support clinical and lab research, Brain Tumor and Long-term survivor programs, child life programs and mental health services that enhance the quality of life for the hospital’s youngest cancer patients. This year marks the 21st anniversary of John Hancock’s partnership with the Mass General Marathon Program, providing Mass General with 100 bib numbers for the race, allowing the hospital to raise more than $13 million.

Carissa Niro’s connection to Mass General is a personal one; her maternal grandfather received extensive care at the hospital for pulmonary hypertension and blood diseases before passing away while in care; her other grandfather is currently battling prostate cancer. Recently, her family uncovered their susceptibility to the BRCA1 gene mutation, significantly increasing her personal risk of breast and ovarian cancer. That’s when it hit home: cancer must be cured. Carissa is running the Boston Marathon for the pediatric cancer center to help further treatment and support care for cancer patients like her grandfather.

 

What inspired you to join the 2018 Mass General Marathon Team for Pediatric Hematology Oncology? Running the Boston Marathon has been a goal of mine for many years, particularly since the 2013 bombing. However, I have always made excuses to not apply – 26.2 miles is pretty intimidating. Last summer/fall, I participated in Ragnar Reach the Beach and was riding the high from that event when I decided to apply to MGH’s marathon team. Running for MGH is especially significant for me, as my maternal grandfather received much care here during the final years of his life and ultimately passed away at this hospital.

Cancer has touched my family in many ways, including lung, colon, breast, prostate and bladder cancer – my paternal grandfather currently has stage 4 prostate cancer with metastasis to the bone. Recently, my family found out that we are susceptible to the BRCA1 gene mutation, significantly increasing my personal risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

Cancer is a scary diagnosis for anyone, but it especially hits home when it is a child. A kid should only have to deal with being a kid. The work that MGH is doing to develop treatments and care for these sick children is so important. No child or their family should have to suffer from this terrible disease.

Is this your first marathon? Yes – eek!

What will you be thinking about on race day? I’ll be thinking of my patient partner Lidia, who is a bright, spunky five-year-old with histiocystosis, a rare form of cancer. My fundraising efforts and marathon run are dedicated to her. I will also be thinking about my family and friends who have been nothing but supportive along this journey. Lastly, I will be focused on crossing the finish line!

What are some lessons you’ve learned from your son/daughter/patient partner/family or friend affected by cancer and from training for the marathon? Keep going and don’t forget to enjoy life along the way. This is especially compelling after a tough run, which can be extremely demotivating. It’s important to remember that through the good runs and the bad, I am getting stronger each day.

This story is part of a series that MGH will publish in advance of the 2018 Boston Marathon featuring the Pediatric Oncology and Emergency Response Teams. In addition, individuals will run for the Miles for Mass General Program, which raises funds for hospital programs that are close to their hearts – including Botswana Oncology Global Outreach, Caring for a Cure, Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome and the Lurie Center for Autism.