Friday, March 22, 2013

Anniversary of a promise

Former MGHfC patient joins MGH Boston Marathon team

Full circle: Paul and Lindsey Beggan

Biggest fan: Lindsey at the Boston
Marathon in 1999

WHEN SHE CROSSES THE FINISH LINE as a member of the 2013 Mass General Boston Marathon Team on April 15, Lindsey Beggan’s life will have come full circle. It was 15 years ago, on the day of the team’s first marathon, that Beggan was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone disease. It also was the day her father made her a promise. “My dad said, ‘You’re going to fight this cancer, and I’m going to run the marathon and we’re going to cross the finish line together,’” Lindsey says.

At 10 years old, Lindsey couldn’t imagine her father running a marathon. Paul Beggan was athletic, but he rarely ran more than five miles.

Dr. Howard Weinstein said he didn’t think it was a good idea,” recalls Paul of Medfield, Mass. Weinstein, chief of Hematology and Oncology at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and the marathon team’s founder, was Lindsey’s doctor at the time. Lindsey faced a year of intensive treatments, and her parents also had three younger daughters to care for. Weinstein, himself a marathon runner, knew training took time that Paul Beggan might not have.

“Looking back I can’t even imagine how we got through it,” Paul says. He and his wife Melinda would take turns staying at the hospital with Lindsey or caring for their other children at home. When it was his turn to stay with Lindsey, Paul would wake early and run along the Charles River.

Lindsey remembers that on some Sundays he’d disappear for hours. “I would ask, ‘Where were you?’ and he’d say, ‘I was running,’ ” she says. “I thought, ‘That took so long! Wow, that’s a lot of time – it must be hard.’ But at 10 years old you don’t really understand running 26 miles and what it actually takes.”

Paul says despite her difficult treatments and hospitalizations, Lindsey inspired him to keep running. She refused to let cancer hold her back, missing only 20 days of school despite spending 100 days in the hospital. She insisted on playing on her soccer team and skiing in the winter. “She kind of put blinders on and said, ‘I’m going to deal with this and I’m going to do it,’ ” he says. “She just wanted to do everything she had been doing. She was a big inspiration.”

In April 1999, not long after her final treatment, Lindsey watched her dad run his first marathon – the one he dedicated to her. That year, she wasn’t able to cross the finish line with him as they originally hoped, but determined to make that happen, Paul joined the Mass General Marathon team in 2000 and 2001. In 2001, John Hancock Financial, the team’s sponsor, arranged for Lindsey to run the last quarter mile with her dad. The moment was both memorable and overwhelming for father and daughter. And it is one they will both recall during next month’s Marathon Monday when Lindsey dons the Mass General team jersey for the first time and hits the pavement.

“I always wanted to run the marathon,” Lindsey says. “I thought it was so cool that my dad did it, but I’ve been kind of scared to run. This year I was like, ‘You know what? If I can get through that, I want to raise money to help.’ It’s been 15 years since I was diagnosed, so I thought it would be a good time to do it.”

Although Lindsey moved to San Francisco two years ago, she still includes her dad in her training routine by calling or texting him after her long runs as well as turning to him for tips and advice. They’re both looking forward to seeing each other at mile marker 20, where the team’s family members camp out. And Lindsey hopes her dad will find a way to run across the finish line with her.

“It’ll be pretty emotional – it’s coming full circle,” Lindsey says.

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