Mike Tripaldi was at a tiki bar with friends on Memorial Day weekend in 2015 when his life changed forever. It should have been an early night — he needed to get up the next morning to train for an Ironman competition. But when Lauren Dudley walked through the door, Tripaldi knew he couldn’t go home.
“We made eye contact immediately,” Tripaldi says. “And the rest is history.”
Three years later, Tripaldi has joined the 2018 Mass General Marathon Team to raise funds for pediatric hematology oncology in honor of Dudley, who is now his fiancée. In April 2017, Dudley discovered a lump after exercising. The next day, she went wedding gown shopping with her mom and sisters. “I thought I’d just pulled something going to the gym,” Dudley recalls. “I showed it to my mom, and she said, ‘Oh, my God. You need to get this checked out right away.’”
Within days, Dudley had a mammogram and ultrasound at her local hospital. The growth was biopsied, and she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. The Leominster couple sought out care at the MGH.
“We fell in love with Mass General,” Tripaldi says. “The experience couldn’t have been more welcoming. Doctors looked her in the eye. She felt like she was the only patient in the whole hospital.”
Tripaldi, a longtime athlete, saw how innovative treatments at the MGH can improve cancer patients’ lives — and how frustrating it is to watch a loved one struggle despite these medical advances.
“You see people fighting for their lives, just to have another day,” he says. “I knew I had to research anything I could do to get involved, so one day nobody will have to worry like us.”
Genetic testing found Dudley to be “mosaic” for the cancer-causing TP53 gene mutation, meaning the gene was found in some but not all of her tumor cells. “Mass General got back to me within two hours of my calling, and I was able to meet with an entire treatment team in one visit,” says Dudley, who was referred to Barbara Smith, MD, PhD, director of the Breast Program in the MGH Cancer Center, for a double mastectomy. She then received treatment at Mass General Waltham every three weeks and will continue with chemotherapy until September.
Tripaldi, meanwhile, trains for the Boston Marathon every day. He also is planning to host a fundraiser at his restaurant — Monument Square Market in Hollis, New Hampshire — the weekend before the marathon.
“My goal is to raise $10,000 — but really, my goal is to blow that away,” Tripaldi says. “This has been horrible to watch. My role is to keep Lauren positive, keep her going. But really, this girl didn’t even need me. There are no words to explain how unbelievably strong she is.”
And when Tripaldi reaches the finish line at the marathon, the couple will be able to focus on a new goal: their Memorial Day wedding.
This article was originally published in the 04/06/18 Hotline issue.