We are very excited, honored, grateful, and more than a little nervous about the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon for BIDMC's Cancer Center this April.
Scientists are getting close to figuring out how to get rid of cancer, but they need our help. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has some of the top researchers in the world, so Julia and I are going to run 26.2 miles on April 18 to support them while honoring the memories of all those in our family we have lost to cancer: my mother at 70, my husband's mother at 72, and our niece at 22. If running my first marathon at age 55 can help someone else have more years with their mom or, in the case of my niece's family, sister and daughter -- well, I guess I can do it. But the only way this works is if you also help.
My mother, having fought off breast and brain cancer, ultimately died of ovarian cancer. We spent her last five days together at BIDMC, me sleeping on a cot beside her, and between handing me slips for the dry cleaner, explaining where her library books were, and asking me to describe the plot where she was to be buried so she could visualize the meadow and hear the birds, she said, “Don’t you dare ever let this happen to you.” Who knows whether running prevents cancer, but I do know that it helped get me through the grief of losing her so young, and helps me still. How amazing that I can now use my running to raise money in such a positive way.
My mother had the BRCA-1 gene, but she never knew it because she died the day before the results came back. I don't know whether it would have comforted her to know it wasn't her fault or made her furious that the gene could be identified but not a cure. But after watching the agonizing pain and heartbreaking disappointment she had to endure, knowing all she would miss, I will do anything I can to support cancer research.
I never thought I would run a marathon. Growing up, running one mile terrified me. In high school I played goalie for every sport so I could be on a team without having to do much actual exercise. And one time in middle school, I tried to run a 5k . . . and I cried.
I was always told I resembled my maternal grandmother, Margaret Hodder, who is my namesake and was a long-time patient in Beth Israel. We called her Achoo because she had a particularly resounding sneeze. Achoo was overweight and, like most women of her generation, did not exercise much; she was also brave, funny, and warm. I take after her not only in my looks but in my love of art, clothes, and ice cream, and perhaps because she was overweight, I kind of assumed I always would be, too. Achoo died at the age of 70 after battling breast and ovarian cancer for years with the help of amazing BIDMC doctors, exactly one month after my father's mother died in California after a two-year fight with colon cancer. It's been 10 years, and I still miss both of my grandmothers every day.
One difficult summer in college, I took up running. It started in a sort-of masochistic way. I would run daily until I was wheezing or collapsing -- 3, then 5, then 7 miles. That August, my mom persuaded me to sign up for a half marathon with her. It became our first race of many. But it was my idea that we should run the full Boston Marathon.
I've found that the weirdest thing about running, even if you're out of breath, is that it makes you happy. It actually gives you space to breathe. Running fundamentally changed who I am as a person: it has made me more resilient, more ambitious, more regimented. I started running to get away from my problems, but now I run to solve them. And I think about Achoo every time I run: about her famous giggle, mostly, and how proud and amazed she would be if she could see us training for this race on her behalf. But I also think about how being overweight made her life unnecessarily difficult, and how uncomfortable she was a lot of the time. Plus she missed out on wearing so many beautiful clothes, which makes me sad.
Achoo and I had the idea to paint the ceilings at Beth Israel one day when she was lamenting how drab they were, and how wouldn't it be nice for frightened patients to have something lovely to look at. In high school my sister, Katharine, and I raised $10,000 to fund a "Paint the Ceilings" project in Achoo’s memory. Over the past year, I've worked with the development team at BIDMC to install mural ceiling tiles in the Oncology Ward above the patients' beds.
We’re hoping that this project will create a better experience for cancer patients at the hospital, but what really needs to happen is for cancer to go away. We need to help the scientists. My amazing mother and I are running the Boston Marathon this year to honor the memory of Achoo, to promote health and well-being, and to do our part to create a world without cancer.