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Caring For A Cure, My Road To The Boston Marathon

I come from a long line of runners.  Well, maybe not really a long line, but I always enjoyed my dad and his brothers reliving their road race stories after a family “fun run.” For me it started with my one-mile sixth grade turkey trot. My mom mapped out the route in the minivan and my dad paced me on his bike. And the running bug never left.

Sara Stevens Feature

My brother got the gene too. He was a three-season athlete on the apparent path to college football. Track was his spring sport.  For a big kid, he was really fast and his relay team was dominating the league. Then, his back started to hurt, a lot. We chalked it up to all the lifting and running. At the district meet, his relay team missed States by a half a footstep. When he completed his leg, there was this look of pain and something didn’t seem right.  The back pain wasn’t a pulled muscle. It was leukemia. Two weeks later, he was admitted to the pediatric oncology floor at the local hospital.

For the next three-and-a-half years, he was treated with chemotherapy. Even though he could not run initially, I kept going, feeling a bit guilty at first that I was able to.  Running became a stress reliever and energizer to power through a time that felt like a bad dream. About a year into his treatment, with medical clearance, he started to hit the pavement. When we could, we ran together; my dad joined, too. We did a half marathon in the midst of his treatment and another one to celebrate the end. Then, onto a marathon.  I will never forget sitting next to him on the bus to Hopkinton trying to hold back my tears. There had been times during his treatment when I didn’t know if we’d ever be able to do this together.

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His diagnosis and treatment were the impetus for me to pursue a career in nursing and I luckily found a job on an oncology floor at MGH. It was here that I met the most devoted nurses and incredible patients. In 2011, those nurses started Caring for a Cure, a totally homegrown, grassroots charity, with a simple goal “to improve the journey of patients and families with cancer through research, resources and awareness.” Over the past five years, CFAC has funded bigger events to help with things like flights and gifting holidays and birthdays; it has also crafted smaller ones, like giving diagnosed patients “induction” baskets with real tissues and chap stick.

On April 15, 2013, our co-worker and friend Jessica Kensky was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings.  Her life changed on a dime and it was an event that forever changed all of us on the floor.

Nearly three years later, Jess received ten bibs for the Boston Marathon through the BAA survivorship program, which she allocated to Caring for a Cure, giving this program an incredible opportunity to exponentially build upon its already solid fundraising base.  When the call for applications came out, I felt compelled to apply. While my immediate question was “where to find the time?”,  my anxiety quickly vanished.  What an honor it would be to run in the name of someone who has shown nothing but grace, dignity, compassion, and strength in the midst of an unforeseen journey and to run for our incredible patients and their families.

Between the ten of us running—all who work different schedules—we have 17 kids, eight dogs, a wedding to plan, a masters degree to complete, and much more.  So, we started a group Facebook page, nicknamed ourselves the Boston Babes (why not?!), and have used it to run “together,” since we knew physical gatherings would be few and far between. We’ve shared inspirational quotes and songs, amusing stories and selfies, and most importantly, stayed connected to one another and to our #1 babe, Jess.

There are many parallels you can draw between a marathon, Jess’s recovery, and the experience for our oncology patients and their families. Much like the inspiration we draw from Jess, our patients and their families provide us countless examples of strength and courage. The combination of these forces has pushed us out of bed before the sun is up and long after it has set and for hours on a weekend morning.  Most importantly, it will be with us for all 26.2 miles on April 18th.

Caring for a Cure 2016 Marathon Video from Caring for a Cure on Vimeo.

Oh, and wondering how my brother’s doing? He just ran the Louisiana State marathon in 3:03.

 

Sara Stevens

About the author:
Sara Stevens

Sara is a a nurse practitioner at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. She has three kids, a Canadian husband and loves a pre-dawn run!

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