Today, I toe the start line of the 123rd Boston Marathon in support of Massachusetts General Hospital.
What a ride this has been. The anticipation, the moments of doubt, the excitement, the buzz of the big training runs, and marathon weekend in Boston. There is definitiveness of what is behind and uncertainty of what is ahead. Training hasn’t always been easy. This has been one of the most humbling and rewarding journeys of my life.
The humbling moments: Workouts that have completely bombed. Weeks with un-perfect mileage. Illness and aches along the way. Juggling a job with travel and an unforgiving commute. Cutting back on sweets…
The rewarding moments: The awesome workouts. The sense of accomplishment after coming in from running hill repeats in sideways snow. The miles that felt effortless. Running “furthest distance ever” milestones over the training block week over week.
I am far from a talented distance runner. It has been a quiet dream of mine to run a marathon (namely b/c my body shouldn't be embarking on 26.2 miles) and when the opportunity presented itself to run AND raise funds for pediatric cancer, the decision was easy. I am running for Massachusetts General Hospital, particularly their pediatric oncology department in honor and in memory of those who have fought courageously with cancer, especially Maria Whitehead.
I chose to fulfill my dream and to give back through running because I can. Philanthropy and giving back has always been important to me.
A huge thank you to the man who showed me and my brother the importance of servicing your community through his service to our country, as a retired Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corps, Dad I cannot thank you enough for your constant humor and unwavering support. A marathoner himself, my dad ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1981.
For those of you who know my athletic background know a couple of things. It has been decorated with championships, big wins, a few heartbreak losses, and tons of great memories along the way. It has also been littered with injury from my college days to giving it my best go on the international stage. I endured the heartbreak of missed Olympic Games before it was time to hang it up.
Being ok in the back of the pack is new territory for me and the teams I have been so fortunate to be a part of over the years. Regardless of where I finish, it comes with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment. I have no expectations for today beyond finishing and soaking it all in with family and friends. If finishing means crawling, then damn it I will crawl!
Trust, the miles are hard and Boston is very cold and very dark in the winter, but it’s not just about the miles. A marathon is far - but the outpouring of support via words of encouragement, texts, calls, emails, packages, surprises on big milestone days, and people making monetary donations give me hope and comfort in humanity. You all have energized me for the past eight months. I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for your unwavering support and love.
But, there’s more. More fueling my journey and my "why" for Massachusetts General Hospital.
Along with Maria, I am running in honor of a few others: Katie Marvinney, Linda Connly, my mother, Eileen Dostal, and myself - announcing publicly that I am a positive carrier of the inherited BRCA gene mutation. BRCA mutation significantly increases ones risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. I, too, am a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital's Breast Oncology Department, ensuring I am doing everything I can to be proactive in screening and prevention for cancer.
For the past 6 years, I have been seeing Dr. Leif Ellisen, Director of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Genetics at MGH. Don’t worry, I am doing just fine! I am constantly undergoing preventative screenings and meeting with my oncology team to make sure I am progressing in the best way possible. Just two weeks ago, after a evening out with friends after work - I slipped away for a 9:15 pm breast MRI at MGH. Results have come back with no signs of cancer!
I feel so fortunate to have raised over $20,000 for MGH and for the the tiniest bravest cancer patients. We all have our story and we all have our why. Thank you all for being a part of mine.
Shalane said, “All runners are tough. Everyone has to have a little fire in them, that even in tough times, can’t be turned off.” I have a big fire, and I will remember that when the miles seem longer than they are!
From training runs in Napa, CA; Hatfield, MA; Louisville, KY; Austin, TX; Winston-Salem, NC; Toronto, Canada; Brooklyn and Manhattan, NYC; and Boston, MA - cheers to you, 26.2.
Stealing the words of another talented runner:
Take a deep breath, look around you, and soak it all in. Relish where you are. Realize how far you’ve come.
You are ready. You are powerful. And you belong.
Now, go get it.
Head up, wings out.
I, too, run for her.
My courage, determination, and ability to fight through the ups and downs in life come from my mother, a breast cancer survivor and avid fan of both my brother, Todd, and me.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 1997 at age 46; Todd was 14 and I was 13. When she heard “You have breast cancer!” she felt like she crashed into a “brick shithouse.”
She waited a week for the test results to understand if the cancer had spread. Her organs and bones were clean. Her surgeon, Dr. Tom Lewis, spent a Saturday morning at his office explaining to my dad, Paul, and my mom what the course of treatment would entail: lumpectomy, chemo, radiation, and chemo. That evening our parents sat us down to tell us “the news.” Mom recalls it being by far the most difficult moment of her life.
It has been over two decades but I still remember crying thinking mom would die. Cancer seemed like such a death sentence at the time. Todd kept to himself; we were both horrified. I am sure he felt he needed to be strong for mom but maybe even more so for me. He’s been by my side for the past 35 years, showing up when the chips are down and observing quietly, but proudly, as his baby sister weaves through life.
The following week, Dr. Lewis removed the tumor in its entirety. The next step would be chemotherapy over three weeks, followed by 25 radiation treatments before another three weeks of chemo. It was not fun sitting in a room full of strangers with only cancer in common waiting for the drip IV to come down over three hours. With time it became therapeutic. My mother had someone to relate to and they could exchange stories. It made her realize she was very fortunate. She lost some of her hair but some of these folks were extremely ill. It made her stay positive and she sought to keep everyone in the room upbeat.
When she reached the second round of chemo, she remembers thinking the end was in sight. However, her white blood cell counts were low and she felt extremely tired and at times agitated. It was hard to stay optimistic but she was not going to let the cancer have the best of her. She remembers watching the last of the god awful IV drip enter her body thinking she had given it her best shot. There were a few more appointments to complete blood work and other tests. Then she heard the words “you are cancer free.” She was overwhelmed and hugged her doctors.
As the weeks and months passed by, mom slowly started to feel like herself again. Her hair grew back, her cheeks gained some color, and her appetite returned. She stayed busy with work, volunteering to chaperone school trips - which she loved doing! - and never missed one of our sporting events.
At her 6 month “cancer free” appointment, since women in her family all had one form of female cancer or another, the doctor thought it would be wise to have BRCA genetic testing done. Her results came back positive which was not good. The doctors recommended a hysterectomy. Difficult decisions needed to be made. After discussing it with her husband, she decided to proceed with it. Another year went by “cancer free.” Then the oncology team recommended a double mastectomy. She consulted with different doctors and a plastic surgeon in Boston. She was scared to death but decided to move forward with a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The surgery lasted 8.5 hours and was no walk in the park. Thankfully, the doctors were incredibly pleased with it. She received fantastic care and was able to return to Western Mass a day ahead of schedule.
She feels very fortunate to have had access to the finest doctors and a supportive husband and two children who have made her so proud - in her own words - of the adults we have become.
Mom said she knows she will be extremely proud and honored to be at this year’s Boston Marathon finish line. This will be a different kind of victory for our family. She’s seen me win divisional and state championships while in high school at Smith Academy, both my mom and my grandfather’s alma mater. She was along for the journey of our incredible three-peat National Championship run at Wake Forest University. She’s also been in the crowd to watch me compete on the international stage. Trust, there will be no first place finishes for me, I will be at the opposite side of the pack from our most elite runners. However, the marathon brings out thousands of victories from every runner who toes the start line and finds the finish. Behind every runner is a story and it has been an honor to share mom’s.
Runners from around the world will gather on April 15th, Patriots Day, in our beloved city in our beautiful state! Mom would like us all to take a few moments to reflect on the true meaning of patriotism. She is extremely proud of her husband who was in the Marine Corps for 27 years, as well as all of those serving our country today. Her final thoughts, "May God bless the city of Boston. May God bless the USA! Run Kelly run...see you at the finish line!”
I, too, run for her.
I met Linda Connly in August of 2012, during my first days in corporate America after walking away from my prior life deeply entrenched in athletics at both the international and collegiate levels. I entered my new job with excited nervous energy. Linda was one of the first executives at EMC to introduce herself to my new hire class. I immediately knew she was special. Her poise, confidence, presence, warmth, and truly genuine demeanor regardless of your role in the company was beyond palpable. To top it off, she had ties to Western Mass where my parents live and she was also a collegiate student-athlete at Saint Anselm College.
Since that first week in new hire, I didn’t have the opportunity to interface with Linda much given her global responsibilities until a special day in 2014 when she was honored by the Boston Chamber of Commerce. I was invited to see Linda accept one of nine Pinnacle Awards, specifically for her in the category of Achievement in Management. I was excited and eager to see what Linda would speak about after hearing other honorees accept their awards, including Harvard President Drew Faust and Boston former first lady Angela Faletra Menino.
Linda took the stage and the moment left me stunned.
Linda spoke in front of her immediate and extended family, friends, and colleagues. Instead of sharing about her own career accolades and how she got to this moment, Linda chose to take the opportunity to address the sold out crowd of over a thousand attendees on her breast cancer diagnosis. Up until that time, I had no idea Linda had battled cancer. It’s not what defines her. But again, she left me in awe. She wanted to take the chance to inspire women to take control of their health and advocate that early detection can save lives. She wanted to tell her story that mammograms had not detected her cancer but it was the luck of a random self-exam that identified the lump.
Her ultimate goal was to inspire women to take action. Linda always says, "good things come out of bad, you just have to look for it!” In her case, one of the most beneficial things that helped her through the process was speaking with other women who had endured breast cancer. She became a strong advocate and a spokesperson to help others through the process.
When I decided to run the Boston Marathon for Massachusetts General Hospital to benefit pediatric oncology, Linda was an inspiration for why MGH and has helped get me through the training and soon across the finish line.
Linda was diagnosed on August 30, 2005 at 40 years old. It was the first day of school for her daughter Olivia, entering 4th grade, and son Jack, entering 2nd grade. Linda and her husband, Peter, put the kids on the bus. Peter left for work and Linda was about to jump in the car when the phone rang.
The prior week she went in for a biopsy, and her physician was fairly convinced that the tumor was a benign cyst. He asked to schedule a follow up appointment, but she declined since it was more efficient to get a call for what she expected to be good news. When her physician explained that she had invasive DCSI, she could not process it; she was in shock wondering how she could call Peter to tell him the unfathomable outcome.
On Linda’s very first appointment at MGH Dr. Michele Specht, (for those of you following my journey she was also Katie Marv’s surgeon), met with the Connly’s with a smile and confidently conveyed that they can deal with this and that Linda would be fine. They reviewed the diagnostics from the biopsy and the ultrasound. Dr. Specht said they needed more information before proceeding with treatment options. She wanted a breast MRI to have one more diagnostic tool to make a recommendation.
The MGH appointment was Linda’s 2nd opinion. The prior week, she went to another major medical center, and when she asked the breast surgeon about doing an MRI after her research, he brushed Linda off and said this is straight forward and there was not a need for the MRI.
Linda’s breast MRI at MGH lit up like a Christmas tree. This meant that she had tumors throughout her breast, leading her to a mastectomy versus a lumpectomy recommendation from the other medical center. A lumpectomy may have never found the other tumors in her breast…at times, Linda wonders what would have happened if she went that route
Linda had an incredible outpouring of support from her personal friends, work friends, and family cheering her on from the sidelines. She took off six weeks from work to focus on her health and elevated her staff to run the show. Linda did not realize that the mastectomy, the healing and the rebuilding process would zap her energy as much as it did. It took her a year to fully recover during which she limited her travel and work schedule.
I have been fortunate to have the joy of spending time with the entire Connly family. Both of Linda’s children have worked at Dell EMC. Olivia is currently a field seller with the company living in Virginia Beach and preparing for a wedding late this summer. Jack is an undergrad and will be interning with the company for a second summer, this year specifically within my organization. The love of Linda’s life, her husband Peter, is her soul mate and rock! As she became and advocate for women, Peter also took on the role of advisor to significant others.
Linda and her family recognize that her story is not unique, and many are not nearly as fortunate. The Connly’s have vowed to give back to make a difference. Five years ago Peter started to ride the 2-day Pan Mass Challenge, to date he and his team have raised over $500k for PMC! Linda completed the 40-mile Avon walk one year after her surgery with a group of girlfriends. It was an incredibly healing experience with the training walks and talking to other walkers along the journey to learn about their stories.
The breast MRI and MGH may very well have saved Linda’s life. The Connly’s wanted to do their part to make it a standard procedure for MRI's to be leveraged as an added diagnostic tool. To make a difference, her family ran major fundraisers for MGH and Dr. Specht to direct funds to support her clinical trial for leveraging breast MRI’s as a diagnostic tool prior to surgical options.
I cannot thank Linda enough for sharing her deeply personal journey with her breast cancer diagnosis. She is a true role-model, mentor, and friend to so many, and I feel lucky to say that I am included in that group. Linda has never watched the finish of the marathon, she knows that most are out running for a personal cause. The shirts, outfits, pictures, and signs only share a brief glimpse into the runners stories, and for me on Marathon Monday - Linda is a part of my story.
I, too, run for her.
KATIE MARVINNEY SCOLA
I have met many people in my life.
There are not many like Katie (Marv) Scola.
Katie is a huge inspiration to me in running the 123rd Boston Marathon and also in life.
I have watched the Boston Marathon once, in 2017. Katie has crossed the finish line of Boston once, also in 2017. I never wanted to watch until i had completed it once, Katie made it easy to break that personal pact. I applied to run the marathon for Massachusetts General Hospital two weeks before Katie married the love of her life and actual superhero, Jeff.
An avid runner she has been asking me for the past few years when I am going to finally do it and there was no better time than committing to it as part of their wedding gift.
Today is February 5th, another day for many of us; but a life changing day for Katie and Jeff. Katie was diagnosed with breast cancer at MGH on this exact date three years ago at age 27. Just six days before diagnosis, Katie did a quick 5-miler and felt great. Later that night she discovered a lump on her left side that would turn out to be cancer. Two rounds of chemo, two surgeries, and radiation consumed the next 333 days of Katie and Jeff’s lives and sidelined Katie from her running passion for large chunks of time.
People have been running the Boston Marathon since 1897, and to Katie, the third Monday in April is one of the most special days of the year. She has loved this day since she moved to Boston and experienced her first Patriot’s Day in 2011 . To run the Boston Marathon had been a bucket list item for Katie, a dream of hers. Fulfill that dream, she did. She wasted no time and toed the start line in April 2017: 3 months post radiation, 6 months post chemo and 9 months post mastectomy. Badass.
Her decision to run Boston in 2017 came from a place of wanting to take back control of both her body and her mind. She thought what better way to prove to herself that she’s in control (and that cancer is not) then by training and running this marathon. To Katie, Boston exemplifies strength, it exemplifies joy, and it exemplifies the good in humanity. Each person running has a story - they are chasing something, they are proving something, they are thinking of someone, every single mile.
For Katie to be able to lace up and run a very historic 26.2 miles after 14 months of the biggest battle of her life to date was such an amazing gift. That day she overcame so much more than just the marathon alone. Thinking about it almost two years later still brings back lots of emotions for Katie.
When I asked Jeff about what supporting and watching Katie run Boston meant to him, he described it as a moving mix of celebration, relief, pain, exhaustion and beauty. She was strength embodied on that day. That day reaffirmed Jeff’s knowledge that Katie could do literally anything she put her mind to, regardless of what cruel twists life threw her way. Jeff doesn’t think you can ever put a cancer diagnosis completely in your past, but that day felt like a major step in proving to everyone that she wouldn’t let it define her and that she would define what was possible from then on.
Katie penned a note to her diagnosis on the eve of Boston in 2017 that speaks more than I could ever say. It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness and to you, Katie, we cannot than you enough for sharing your light.
I have a fire in my soul.
I’m not sure there are words strong enough to explain the feelings I have towards you.
You stopped my life in its tracks. You’ve taken a large part of my body. You took the hair on my head. You took my energy. Many nights you have taken my sleep-I used to be THE BEST sleeper until you came along. You took my eyelashes. You took my eyebrows. You’ve taken some mobility from my left side. You’ve taken lymph nodes. You may have even impacted my ability to carry a child one day.
In a sense, you have taken my innocence. My ability to live a care-free life in my late 20’s. I used to be concerned about my weekend plans, my career, what I would eat for dinner, the day I would get engaged, my next vacation or trip-probably similar thoughts to other 27 year old women.
Now 14 months later what keeps me up at night? Often times it is the fear of you coming back.
I attended a conference recently and one of the speakers shared this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt and it really stuck with me…“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along,’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
So let me look you in this face. Maybe this is where I say thank you. Thank you for changing my life. Thank you for helping me realize just how minuscule those things I used to focus on really are.
Make no mistake-I will never, ever, ever welcome you back-but it’s because of you I am running America’s marathon. It’s becomes of you I accepted a marathon number with only 12 weeks to train my body.
You’ve lit that fire in my soul. I will line up in Hopkinton and I will run 26.2 miles just 3 months post radiation, 6 months post chemo and 9 months post mastectomy.
I respect the road you have taken me down but you have picked the wrong person because today I will prove to you that you have not stopped me. You have not taken my soul.
I will prove to myself that I am on my way to coming back from you stronger than I was-especially just 12 weeks ago. I will prove to anyone who is still fighting that there is the hope at the end of this. I will prove to everyone who has been touched by you that we can stand and we will beat you.
It has been an honor and joy to share in some of these moments with Katie.
For her strength and courage, her humility and humor, her selflessness and shine-I, too, run for her.
One of the reasons why I am running Boston 2019:
Our only Final Four loss in my career was my freshman year in an overtime heartbreaker to then ACC foe, Maryland. In that moment we vowed as a team that would not happen again anytime soon. Our sights for the following (2002) season were on one thing, where were the Terps on our schedule! Mid-September game day finally arrive and as fate would have it, overtime, again.
A mere 3 and a half minutes into overtime, the spark of our squad and legacy of our program to this day, Maria Whitehead, executed flawlessly on a perfect pass to the end of my stick for the game winner. I tell this story not because of the win but because it was a favorite of many memories for us of Maria, a teammate we lost far too soon in her courageous battle with cancer.
Maria Whitehead passed away November 1, 2006
Wake Forest field hockey’s first ever championship of any kind came later in that magical 2002 season, Maria’s senior year. We went on to win the ACC Championship followed by Wake Forest field hockey’s first ever National Championship.
Today is ACC Championship Sunday • Wake Forest vs UNC
Twelve years ago on Nov 5, 2006 ACC Championship Sunday • Wake Forest teammates, families, alumns, and friends of the program descended to Chapel Hill, NC where Wake Forest competed for a title against Maryland in a 1-0 victory. That celebratory high of a championship transitioned that evening into a celebration of life. Family, friends, teammates, and the medical staff Maria had deeply impacted filled Duke University Chapel to remember Maria, who had passed away days earlier following her courageous battle with melanoma at the age of 25.
I am running the Boston Marathon 2019 to raise funds for Massachusetts General Hospital, specifically for pediatric cancer. Maria’s courage, strength, humor, and legacy will live on within the Wake Forest community forever.
I, too, run for her.
MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL wrote:
Since 1998, with the partnership of John Hancock, the Mass General Marathon Team Fighting Kids’ Cancer, One Step at a Time has raised over $14 million to support the pediatric hematology-oncology program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). Funds raised are directed to cancer care, research, and initiatives that enhance the quality of life for the hospital’s youngest cancer patients.
Thanks in large part to the philanthropic dollars raised by this Marathon Team, MGHfC is advancing cutting-edge research, increasing the number of clinical studies to improve cure rates, and providing the best treatment possible to pediatric cancer patients. MGHfC is also focused on the quality of life of its young patients and their families through the child life program, which utilizes therapeutic play - music and art therapy to help pediatric cancer patients and their families cope emotionally and developmentally with their illnesses.
Each year more patients than ever before are referred to us because we continue to be leaders in transforming cancer care for children.
We are grateful for the hard work of all of our runners and the dedication of their family and friends, as they embark on fundraising and training for the historic 26.2 mile race.