After running 5 consecutive marathons, MGH nurse Jessica Spence needed time off from the grueling training. When she learned about the passing of her 2016 Patient Partner, Matt, though, Spence found inspiration to push through just as he had done. 


What inspired you to join the Fighting Kids’ Cancer... One Step at a Time team?
I ran the Boston Marathon for other charity organizations that support cancer research. Since I’m an MGH nurse, I decided to run for the MGH Pediatric Cancer Team in 2016. After hearing about the Patient/Partner Program, I submitted an application. When I received my Patient Partner assignment, I realized that I had already met him and his mom just a week or so prior at an in-office visit. I instantly had a connection with Matt and his mom and was beyond excited to be running for him!

Matt was a very smart, kind, funny and strong kid. To see such determination, positive attitude, smile, and sense of humor on a person so young dealing with a heavy load was truly inspiring to me. People often complain about insignificant things instead of simply appreciating that they are in good health. Matt never gave up. He inspired his friends and family every day with how he lived and treated others. Sadly, Matt passed away a few months after the marathon in August 2016. It completely broke my heart several times over. I am truly blessed to have met Matt and his family as they brought a lot of extra joy to my life. I was going to take a year off from the marathon but after Matt’s passing, I know I need to run again. I need to keep his memory very much alive and continue to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research.

Is this your first marathon?
This will be my 5th consecutive Boston Marathon but 2nd with the MGH Pediatric Cancer team.

What will you be thinking about on race day?
I will be thinking about Matt and his family. Despite the obstacles they endured, they never gave up hope. Through good days and bad days, they still smiled and were very gracious to all involved in Matt’s care team. I had countless interactions with Matt and he never once complained about anything. He would always say “I’m great.” He stayed positive and kept his sense of humor. When I feel weak at points of the marathon, I will have Matt in my thoughts and with me during the run. I’ll be wearing a picture of us on a pin that will be pinned to my running singlet! It will give me extra strength when I need it the most. Running a marathon is nothing compared to what patients have to deal with battling the disease and all of the side effects of medications. What are some lessons you’ve learned from Matt and from training for the marathon? Matt’s radiant smile and cheerful, optimistic approach to life will always stay with me. Everyone needs to take on his motto, “no matter what is going on it could always be worse.” I’ve taken that on and will use it to get to my ultimate goal: Find a cure. #RUN4MATT #RUN4MGH


This story is part of a series that MGH Hotline will publish in advance of the 2017 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.