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. After Jennifer’s year-long bout with stage 3 cancer, the 2017 Boston Marathon was a chance to give herself, her family, and her friends reassurance that she was healthy, strong, and “back.” She called it a final phase of treatment – returning to her pre-diagnosis self – strong in both body and mind. This year, however, she’s celebrating her ‘new normal’ as a breast cancer survivor with a new sense of gratitude and a healthy appreciation for good health.
What inspired you to join the 2018 Mass General Marathon Team for Pediatric Hematology Oncology?
In April 2015, I was the typical too busy working mom, long overdue for a mammogram. I felt a strange bump so I made a doctor's appointment. The call-back scan showed micro-calcifications, but the “small frozen pea” (as I had taken to calling it) wasn’t even visible. I continued to ask about it, and within two weeks a biopsy confirmed that the small pea was, in fact, invasive ductal carcinoma: Stage 1 Breast Cancer. I immediately consulted with two of my closest friends, both physicians at MGH, who insisted I change my care to the MGH Breast Cancer Center. Within weeks of my initial “simple” diagnosis, additional biopsies found a second lesion as well as a malignant lymph node. Things were getting complicated but I was in good hands.
My first surgery clinched my love of MGH. My cancer team had already blown me away with their care and compassion. But over the course of that day, as I worked with the interventional radiology team, nursing staff, OR teams, and even orderlies, I realized it was the culture of MGH - what every hospital should aspire to be.
As I had full body scans to rule out metastasis (based on pathology I was now Stage 3), three more surgeries, sixteen weeks of chemo, and six weeks of proton radiation, I celebrated MGH. And as I finished treatment in April 2016 and watched the Boston Marathon that month, I vowed that there was no reason to wait any longer.
Last year was focused on feeling whole again. After my year-long bout with stage 3 cancer, the marathon was a chance to give myself, my family, and my friends reassurance that I was healthy, strong, and “back.” I also was so grateful to give back to MGH after all the incredible caregivers there had given me. I called it my final phase of treatment – returning to my pre-diagnosis self – strong in both body and mind.
But the further I move away from diagnosis and treatment, the more I’m learning about the thing that oncologists refer to as “the new normal.” My new normal includes a new perspective on time; a new sense of gratitude; a healthy appreciation for good health; and periodic, albeit small, reminders of “what could have been and what still might be” related to my cancer. So it is with a renewed urgency that I want to run again. While there is nothing special about the upcoming year, I also know that there is never a reason to wait for something I want to do. I crave the systematic and devoted training regimen – the only time each day I take solely and selfishly to focus on me. I’m excited for my kids, Elena and Andrew (now 12) to join me for my shorter runs. And I’m excited for my long runs alone with Stella, the dog, and my thoughts. Most of all, I’m excited to run again with this incredible team for this amazing cause.
Is this your first marathon?
Nope! I ran for you guys last year, too!
What will you be thinking about on race day?
The joy of living life to the fullest – and gratitude to all those who have allowed me to do so. There are some particular individuals I know I’ll be thinking about: my immediate family (Mike and the kids); my mom and brother and how all this has impacted them from a distance; my dearest friends who support me through anything and everything; Alex Bradstreet – who is not only a fellow BRCA survivor but ran for MGH last year and who, by sheer chance, was my running partner (totally unplanned) for the entire 26.2 miles last year; my three proton pals (3 BRCA survivors – all working moms -- who were undergoing proton radiation the same time I was and we have remained connected); several close friends who have recently had their own bouts with cancer; my sister-in-law who passed away from cancer in Feb. 2016; and how grateful I will always be that this hit me and not my precious kids.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from experience with cancer and from training for the marathon?
Hopefully the inspiration for running (above) describes these, but there really are too many to name. “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” makes me giggle for so many reasons. Along with other great clichés like “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “life is short” and “there’s no time like the present.” Nothing reinforces these clichés more than a cancer diagnosis. And nothing makes it “easier” to get through long runs than simply reminding myself how joyous it is to be running.
This story is part of a series that MGH will publish in advance of the 2018 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.