As 30 year old Alyssa Maglione ran past the Boston Marathon Mile 20 marker last year, Mass General pediatric cancer team supporters shook pom-poms, rang cow bells and shouted encouragement. But Alyssa only needed one thing to boost her energy – stepdaughter Sophia’s smiling face.
Just hours before, Sophia, 8, had completed a six week proton radiation protocol and despite the long treatment day on April 18, 2016, rushed to the course with her dad, Rich. They stood poised at the metal barrier scanning the crowd for Alyssa. When she rounded the corner, Sophia snuck through the rails and ran 50 feet with her stepmom. “The strength Sophia found to support me was all I needed to tackle the hills ahead. If she could battle through a relapse and radiation, I could run,” says Alyssa. “Sophia’s a tough kid. She doesn’t easily cry, but she did on Marathon Monday. She was proud of me and of the people who do so much for her.”
On April 17, Alyssa will run as part of the Mass General Marathon team, “Fighting Kids’ Cancer … One Step at a Time,” this time accompanied by husband Rich Maglione. The team raises money for the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Division at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC), where Sophia is being treated for medulloblastoma – a fast growing tumor that develops in the brain. First diagnosed in New York at age 2 ½, Sophia then underwent 3 brain surgeries, 5 rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Sophia’s cancer returned in January 2016 and after another brain surgery, she required 30 rounds of proton therapy at MGH before more chemotherapy would be administered.
“Sophia’s doctors told us Sophia needed to receive radiation this time around and that proton therapy was only available at a handful of hospitals around the country, one of those hospitals being MGH. Since I grew up in the Boston area, I always knew that MGH was the best, so my husband and I transferred Sophia’s care to MGHfC right away,” says Alyssa. “From the pediatric perspective, our family can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Alyssa and Rich cite the personalized care that Sophia receives coupled with the clinical, yet comforting, expertise of David Ebb, MD, physician in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology and staff. “No matter what the time or reason, the doctors always call back and patiently answer questions until we’re feeling okay. Dr. Ebb has an unparalleled ability to settle our minds. We feel like he’s been through these complicated issues personally.”
The couple hopes to declare Sophia cancer-free when they cross the Boylston Street finish line. She is being monitored closely by Dr. Ebb and his team. They are incorporating the determination and focus learned throughout Sophia’s care into their marathon training. Despite bumps, bruises and bad knees, Alyssa and Rich promised their daughter they’d finish this year’s race and that’s the plan, despite learning from all they have been through that plans don’t always materialize as you think they will.
“Sophia makes us resilient. We are running because the team of doctors and nurses at the clinic saved Sophia's life and although we can never thank them enough, we can run, so that's what we are going to do,” says Rich. “Fighting cancer is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
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.