It all started eight years ago with a pain in the neck.
The photo above is of my then-fiancee Krissie and myself at a party to ring in the 2008 New Year. It felt at the time like a fairly normal, innocuous New Year’s Eve for a couple that was set to be married in less than six months. With hindsight, I can now look back on that night as the initial chapter of a battle and a story that would reshape my life. At the time the photo above was taken, though I was happy and looked healthy and was in reasonably decent shape for a 30-year-old man, I had never run more than a couple of miles at a time. I admired runners greatly and had grown up watching the Boston Marathon each year in my native Massachusetts, but it was always something I followed exclusively as a spectator. That was about to change.
On the way to this New Year’s Eve party, I stopped at a gas station to buy a pack of Ibuprofen because the right side of my neck was feeling stiff. The Ibuprofen did its job fine, and I didn’t give my neck much though until four nights later when, after a night work as I sat in bed about to turn out the light, I felt a vibration radiate from the same spot in my neck that had been stiff the night of the party. It radiated around the back of my neck and up the back of my skull, shaking my entire head internally as if a freight train was rumbling through it. Eight years later, I can remember exactly what this felt like. It was one of the oddest sensations I had ever experienced.
While I can recall the feeling of the vibration that shook my skull eight years later, I woke up a mere eight hours after it happened to find my head had been scrambled. Initially, I couldn’t remember the day of the week or the date. I actually called the office to find out whether I was scheduled to work because I couldn’t recall. I’m the sort of person who keeps dates and to-do lists in his head. These sorts of things never happen to me.
In the ensuing weeks, I gradually began to feel quite ill. At first it felt like a strange cold that wouldn’t go away, but with time the symptoms grew stranger and more alarming. The initial scrambled memory mutated into a mind that seemed to exist in a near-constant fog. I was not as mentally sharp as usual. Even my speech grew more sluggish. I grew fatigued, winded and dazed merely walking through the aisles of a store. My appetite was unpredictable and weak. I lost nearly 20 pounds of muscle in the first two months of the year. Each night I would wake up every two hours on the dot, my shirt soaked with sweat. I was going through three or four shirts each night.
Finally, in early February 2008, a doctor sent me for a CT scan on my neck, which revealed enough for him to order a biopsy. A couple of days later, I was in surgery. The biopsy revealed a feared diagnosis: Hodgkin’s Disease.
The initial shock and fear of learning I had cancer quickly hardened into determination. I was angry at the cancer for threatening my wedding and my future, and even though I had never been a runner I missed the ability to run at all. I knew I would never take it for granted again. And so, the day following my diagnosis, I began promising to anyone who would listen, the boldest promise I could make. I would beat the cancer. We would keep our June 21 wedding date. And the following year, I would stick it to the cancer for all-time by running a marathon.
The promise came true. I underwent my final chemo treatment on June 10, and its side effects wore off on June 18 – three days before Krissie and I got married. After we returned from our honeymoon, tests showed my cancer was in complete remission. The following year, keeping to my word, I ran and finished the Chicago Marathon after raising more than $2,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Nearly eight years later, the cancer has never come back. I am considered cured. Krissie and I have two wonderful daughters. And I have kept on running, having completed a total of 10 marathons, four half-marathons, and a bevy of shorter races.
This year, I have been given an amazing opportunity which will mark the zenith of my running career to date. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the renowned center located in my hometown of Boston and founded by Dr. Sidney Farber – the father of chemotherapy – has given me a spot on its team to run the Boston Marathon, my hometown race and the most prestigious marathon in the world – the race I grew up watching with runners that seemed almost superhuman for their endurance. In doing so, I aim to raise more money in the fight against cancer than I’ve raised in all my previous races combined.
I plan to update this blog each week with training updates and other fun stuff, starting now and continuing up until and through the April 18 race. It’s my hope that you’ll enjoy reading it and following my journey along with me. Maybe it will motivate you to get out there and run yourself. Maybe it will just give you an interesting or amusing diversion for a few minutes each week. Either way, thanks for reading.
If you’d like to donate to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to support the fight against cancer and my marathon run, you can do so here at my Boston Marathon fundraising page.
Regardless of whether you donate, I hope you’ll choose to read and follow along with me in my quest to conquer the entire stretch from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. It promises to be quite the journey.
Happy New Year. Let’s all make sure there are many more happy New Years for patients and survivors across the globe, as well as their families.