Friday, April 1, 2016

Taking on 26.2 miles

SUPPORTING HER SON: Reissfelder with her son Keith

At 17 years old, Keith Reissfelder’s life revolved around school and the football field. When the high school quarterback began experiencing pain in his leg and knee, he assumed it was a bruise or sprain from the gridiron. That was until he awoke one morning in excruciating pain. His parents, Jennifer and Keith Reissfelder, rushed him to the emergency room.

An X-ray showed a massive tumor in the lower femur, which stretches from the knee to hip bone. Keith was diagnosed with diffused large-B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that protects the body from infection.

The family soon learned that Keith’s cancer was treatable and developed a plan with physicians at MassGeneral Hospital for Children’s (MGHfC) Hematology/Oncology Center, which involved nine weeks of chemotherapy. Although he and his parents were nervous about the diagnosis, his mother says the year was a perfect storm of bad things leading to wonderful, life-changing experiences.

In 2015, Keith attended every New England Patriots home game, traveled to Hawaii as part of the Make-A-Wish program, met his personal hero, Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and was selected by MGHfC’s child life specialists to participate in the Patriots Super Bowl XLIX victory parade. Also, as part of the 2015 Boston Marathon “‘Fighting Kids’ Cancer ... One Step at a Time” Patient Partner program, marathoner Meaghan Connors ran in his honor, helping to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancers.

But, perhaps most importantly, Reissfelder and her husband watched their son mature because of his dueling experiences.As a teen, Keith had his own questions and concerns. “Rather than speaking to me, Dr. Mary Huang directed her answers to Keith and made him comfortable about what was happening to and around him. We couldn’t lie or sugar-coat the situation and he’s more grateful and humble because of it,” says Jennifer Reissfelder.

This year she will take on the 26.2 in honor of her son – and although it won’t be her first marathon, it is the most meaningful. “This is the first time running means something to me. I couldn’t run 10 marathons to thank the MGH enough for everything they’ve done for my family. This course isn’t a big deal; what the kids face daily is the true test. I wouldn’t be running if it weren’t for them.”

This story is part of a series that MGH Hotline will publish in advance of the 2016 marathon featuring the “Fighting Kids’ Cancer ... One Step at a Time” and the “Ready When Seconds Count” teams. The latter supports emergency preparedness and disaster training. In addition, 19 individuals will run and fundraise for the Miles for Mass General program, which supports hospital programs that are close to their hearts – including cystic fibrosis, pediatric palliative care, the MGH Cancer Center, the Lurie Center for Autism and Huntington’s disease research at the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease.

Read more articles from the 04/01/16 Hotline issue.

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