The third times a charm or so the saying goes. In my case, my third Boston Marathon will be my swan song....the one where I will arrive at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill ( my personal nemesis / white whale) and say "Bring It" rather than "Please just be over"! I have had the honor of running Boston and raising money for MGH Pedi Hematology and Oncology in both 2013 and 2014. This April 15, 2019, exactly 6 years to the day of my first Boston I will lace up my sneakers, stretch, and take that amazing and at times tortuous 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. I will do so for one reason and with one inspiration, my younger brother Andrew David Pywell.
Andrew was diagnosed with a form of pediatric brain cancer that was rare in adults, only a few cases a year, in January 2008. He had surgery in February 2008, started chemo and radiation at MGH in March 2008 and was able to say the words "Cancer Free" in July 2008. During that time he continued to run his contracting business and welcomed his first child, a son named for our dad, David Pywell who had passed away suddenly in September 2006.
What I remember most from this time was Andrew's indomitable spirit and unshakeable faith that he was going to beat this cancer. That he was going to be there for his son and the rest of his family and friends. Andrew enjoyed almost 3 years of remission, growing his business and welcoming his second child, a daughter in 2010. Then in the spring of 2011, he noticed that his gait was off and received the devastating news that a new brain tumor had developed and his treatment options were limited. He and my sister in law made the brave decision to undergo stem cell replacement therapy. He checked into MGH on July 3rd, just 7 days before his 35th birthday and 23 days before his daughter Audrey's 1st birthday. To say that my brother is my hero is such an understatement. The courage and strength that it took to endure not only the excruciating treatment process but the painful separation from his wife and children. Just the thought of missing your child's first birthday is utterly heartbreaking... But as always, my little brother met this challenge with a fearless attitude, unswerving hope and of course, his devil-ish humor! It was more important to him that others felt comforted when they visited him...never once did he have a pity party. He of course, had every MGH staff member under his spell, that smile of his just made everyone feel like they were special.
The stem cell therapy didn't work out as we all hoped and prayed...again in 2012 he began Proton Therapy and a chemo pill regimen that allowed him more time and gave us all the best summer in a very long time. We celebrated his 36th birthday twice, one that he knew about and an epic surprise party booze cruise on Lake Sunapee. The fact that we had to "refuel" the bar halfway through the party tells it all. We celebrated as if it were his last birthday. Sadly, it was....and that Christmas we faced what would be our last with him and in January 2013, the tumors started to slowly take my brother away. He fought it, sometimes so hard that it took everything within me not to break down. But Andrew was a fighter...a warrior of HOPE and we all bravely took our cues from him.
That's when I got the idea of running the Boston Marathon and raising money for MGH. I was able to join the John Hancock Team and have my donations go to the MGH Pedi Oncology team. My training was sporadic at best. I had trained and run a marathon before but this time was different...my brother was dying and I could barely hold it together. Caring for a family during a crisis takes a toll and my running was no longer a respite, it was a reminder of what I was going to lose and broke my heart. Andrew and Marit told me the night before my 20 mile run from Hopkinton to the top of Heartbreak that he was switching to palliative care. The reality of this news caught up with me around mile 12....the thought of my beautiful, pain in the ass younger brother no longer being with all of us filled my heart and my legs with an anger that I cannot describe. All I could do to keep from screaming was to run faster, so much faster than I should have. I basically sprinted the next 8 miles...I remember getting to the top of Heartbreak Hill and thinking "I could go another 6.2 with no problem..." What I didn't know was that I had pulled my hip flexor and my race had just been compromised. I was able to run a few more times after that, including the 13 mile taper run before the pain became unbearable and I had to stop running and only do PT until race day. Andrew soon became bedridden and we lived everyday with the painful knowledge that it could be his last. Thankfully we all were able to celebrate Easter with Andrew, his priest gave him his last rites with all of us present and on Wednesday April 10, 2013, just 5 days before the marathon, Andrew passed away with Marit, Mom, his godmother and myself at his side. The days leading up to the marathon are a blur now. With the support of my family, dear friends and an amazing woman named Kris Baumgartner Carroll who I met in the John Hancock Welcome Tent around 5:30 am on the 15th, I got to the starting line and made it to Mile 22 before the bombs at the finish line changed everything.
We all remember the horrors of that day and have done our best to make peace with it. Training, raising money and running for MGH in 2014 was a lesson in redemption and persistence. My hip flexor still wasn't 100% and my heart was still broken but the memory of Andrew's strength and hope fueled my legs and I was able to finish with a sense of accomplishment that was denied to me and many other runners in 2013. I still was not able to run up Heartbreak Hill without having to walk parts of it but my team of fabulous women were at Mile 20, giving me the cheers of support which helped fuel my legs for the last 6.2. There was someone around Mile 22 ( where I had to stop the year before) with a sign that read "Remember Why You Are Running"....that was all I needed to finish.
It's been 5 years since I have run more than 5 miles but here I am...new gear, new goals and a new perspective. I don't need to set a personal record, I just have to raise the money and finish the race. And this where I need your help. I raised $19K in 2013 and $21K in 2014. If I raise $10K, I will have raised $50k for MGH Pedi Hematology and Oncology....my catch phrase for all of my cancer fundraising has always been "CUCK FANCER" and is there a better illustration of those words than giving $50k to the doctors, nurses and researchers at MGH to do just that? I will be turning 50 exactly 35 days after the marathon and I can't think of a better present. $50 for 50 years to raise $50K in loving memory of my little brother. A big sister couldn't ask for more!
Thank you to all who have supported me, to all of you who have endured my endless Andrew stories these past five years, to all who have believed in me more than I have believed in myself.... Bless you all and as always CUCK FANCER!!