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Friday, April 18, 2014

Boston Marathon Inspires At Children’s Cancer Clinic

A mural in MGH’s pediatric cancer clinic tells the story of the hospital’s marathon team, which was founded by Dr. Howard Weinstein, chief of MGH’s pediatric hematology-oncology program, in 1998. (Courtesy of MGH)

A mural in MGH’s pediatric cancer clinic tells the story of the hospital’s marathon team, which was founded by Dr. Howard Weinstein, chief of MGH’s pediatric hematology-oncology program, in 1998. (Courtesy of MGH)

While the Boston Marathon will be the center of international attention this year, the marathon has always been a focal point at a Boston clinic that treats children with cancer.

For each of the past 16 marathons, many patients at the pediatric cancer program at Massachusetts General Hospital have been paired with runners — using the race’s symbol of endurance and strength to the youngsters undergoing cancer treatment.

Two former patients ran last year but were stopped before the finish line because of the bombings.

But they’ll be back — running this year, determined not to let what happened last year tarnish a race that — for them — signifies hope.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, WBUR’s Deborah Becker has the story.

Reporter

Transcript

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

While the Boston Marathon will be the center of international attention this year, the marathon has always been a focal point at a Boston clinic that treats children with cancer. For each of the past 16 marathons, many patients at the childhood cancer program at Massachusetts General Hospital have been paired with runners, using the race as a symbol of endurance and strength to inspire youngsters undergoing cancer treatment.

Two former patients ran last year but were stopped before the finish line because of the bombings. But they'll be back running this year, determined not to let what happened last year tarnish a race that for them signifies hope. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WBUR's Deborah Becker has the story.

DEBORAH BECKER, BYLINE: The Boston Marathon has been so much a part of the treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital's childhood cancer program that it now has what's known as the marathon mural hallway.

DR. HOWARD WEINSTEIN: We have little footsteps and a start line for the Boston Marathon and a finish line. And when we do...

BECKER: Dr. Howard Weinstein is chief of the program. He's been planning this hallway for years, and it was completed in October. The walls are lined with all sorts of images: photos of patients and the runners they're paired with, mementos from the pasta dinner for runners and their patient partners, and images from mile 20, where supporters and patients gather to cheer on his running team.

What is that photo? Is that you?

WEINSTEIN: That's me.

BECKER: That's you holding a little...

WEINSTEIN: So that's holding my patient.

BECKER: It's a dramatic photo of Weinstein stopped at mile 20. The name Lily is written in black on his arm. He's smiling widely as he holds Lily, the toddler tightly hugging his neck, her missing hair evidence of chemotherapy.

WEINSTEIN: That was my patient-partner two years ago, Lily, who was just about a year into her therapy for leukemia. She's now completed all of her therapy and will be at mile 20 again. And she's been a great inspiration. And you can imagine a hug like that from your patient can get you from mile 20 to Copley.

(LAUGHTER)

BECKER: Inspiration is what Weinstein hopes the marathon gives his patients. It's a symbol of tenacity, courage, dedication and the strength of the human body, all things a child needs to remember during treatment. And he wants this hallway to be a year-round reminder.

WEINSTEIN: And it was really to also bring to life on a daily basis how important the marathon program is to our childhood cancer program. Also, I think, to be an inspiration to our patients who will be participating in future years.

BECKER: The first time one of Weinstein's former patients joined in was three years ago. Six former patients will be running this year.

WEINSTEIN: This huge photo at the start is Lindsey Beggan. And this was Lindsey last year.

BECKER: Last year was the first time 26-year-old Lindsey Beggan tried to run the Boston Marathon. Beggan, who is from Medfield but now lives in California, was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 10. It's been in remission for years.

LINDSEY BEGGAN: Running the marathon was just an incredible experience and - sorry - getting to mile 20 was one of the most amazing things that has ever happened, just seeing my entire family there, knowing that they all supported me.

BECKER: A few miles after reaching mile 20 last year, Beggan and others on the Mass General team had to stop because of the bombings. They wandered around for about an hour before they got to a pre-arranged meeting place and found out exactly what happened. Luckily, no one involved with their team was hurt. Despite last year's tragedy, Beggan is looking forward to another chance.

BEGGAN: I am excited that I get to run again and share that experience with even more people this year, because everybody is so passionate about the marathon. And I'm just excited to run across the finish line and have that feeling of accomplishment.

BECKER: Beggan anticipates having a wide rage of emotions when she crosses the finish line on Monday and so does Weinstein.

WEINSTEIN: It's unbelievable for me to be able to run side by side with some of my patients. There's no way to describe that feeling. You know, for me it's one of the most important days of the year.

BECKER: And both of them say nothing that happened last year is going to change that. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Deborah Becker. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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