To Make a Donation to the 2016 team

Please visit my fundraising page to make a donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (www.runDFMC.org/2017/jennies). Please help me reach my goal of $50,000 to fund important basic cancer research! With your support, we have already provided over $312,000 to Dana-Farber researchers over the past 8 years. Please give as generously as your means allow!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Our collective spirit

Yesterday started much like other mornings when I have set out to run the Boston Marathon.  A little breakfast.  Last check of my gear bag.  A ride to the bus to Hopkinton.

The DFMC team gathers together at a church in Hopkinton, a final celebratory gathering before heading to the corrals for the start of the marathon.  We gave Dennis a big send-off as he prepared to participate in the hand-cycle portion of the race.  We gathered for our team picture.  We proudly applauded our "Living Proof" teammates...cancer survivors out there to cover the 26.2 in an effort to end cancer.  We shared hugs and nervous chatter in the line for the port-a-potties.  We signed banners for patients.  We got ourselves ready to go...ready to revel in the day that we all worked so hard to reach.

The race went as most do.  Some miles felt good...others were tough.  I struggled in the hills, but just kept telling myself to keep moving.  I got high-fives and smiles from my family and friends in Newton.  I missed some other friends along the way, but knowing they were out there kept me motivated and moving.  Cheers of "'Noog" in reference to my hometown of Chattanooga from friends made me smile as I shuffled up Heartbreak Hill.  The mobility impaired runners, the soldiers, the wheelchair athletes, the Hoyts, the everyday heroes...they were all out there running their race...not giving up and pushing themselves each and every mile.   I really worked to keep running to get to Mile 25 where the DFMC patient partners were, especially Team Matty who has held a special place in my heart over the last two seasons.  I knew if I could get there running, I would finish. Motivated by these young heroic patients and families, I started on the final 1.2 miles.

As I rounded the corner from Hereford to Boylston, I heard my husband and sister calling my name.  I wasn't sure if my family would be there but I was excited to catch a glimpse of them as I made the turn.  Sometimes the traffic is too difficult to make it from Newton, but I was glad to see the two of them although I couldn't tell if anyone else was there.

I shuffled toward the finish line, taking in the cheers of the crowd that were 7 or 8 deep along both sides of the street.  And finish, I did.  In fact, I had one of my best runs.  But it doesn't matter.  Finishing no longer matters.  Things changed quickly as I moved through the finishing area.

As I waited to get my bag, there was a loud boom.  Fireworks?  Never heard those before at the finish.  A cannon?  Seems odd in the middle of the city but maybe in honor of Patriots Day.  Some nearby officers said shots fired, but it was too big a noise for that.  Gas explosion?  Could have been...I hope everyone is okay.  And then another.

So many of us wandered about in a state of confusion, but there was not an immediate sense of urgency yet.  I started to move towards the runner exit and when I glanced up Boylston St. to my right as I was moving along, I knew something was very wrong but I didn't know what it was.  Police officers, medics, volunteers...they were all running and driving towards the Finish line.  Now it was urgent and people were beginning to panic. 

I made my way out and found a DFMC volunteer to walk back to our meeting place with me.  I had been calling and texting my husband and sister.  Are you okay?  Where are you?  What happened?  No response.  I tried to call my parents.  No service.  I was frantic.  As we were walking, we still had no idea what happened but hoped for the best.

After what felt like an eternity, I received a text my from husband asking where I was, and although I couldn't respond, I knew they were okay.  I didn't know where they were and I didn't know if my parents and kids were also in town.   And we still had no idea what had happened.

As we made it back to the Marriott (the DFMC meeting area), the news was reporting two explosions at the marathon finish line.  There were a lot of injuries.  I came up the escalator to find our friends filled with fear and overwhelmed by the events.  They had been waiting on Boylston to watch their mother (my friend) finish and the explosions went off to their right and to their left.  Three young boys, their dad, and their grandmother.  It was heartbreaking to see the trauma in their eyes, and just knowing their mom was safe was not enough.  They needed to see her and hug her.

As we waited, my sister and Andrew made it to the Marriott a few minutes later with my cousin who had been watching the race with them in Newton and met up with them again in Boston.  I was so relieved to have them in my sights, and was thankful to know the kids were not in the city for the finish.

I was finally able to call my parents using my friend's phone and reached my dad.  They had taken my kids back home and were coming home from getting ice cream, unaware of the events in Boston.  I didn't have cell phone numbers of other friends to try to send text messages to see if they were okay.  There were two other women from our town on the DFMC team, and other friends running for other charities but I had no way to get in touch with them.  They hadn't checked in with Dana-Farber, and we couldn't get online to check the tracking system.  My phone was filled with messages but I couldn't respond, and I couldn't ask if anyone had heard from them or from their families who were supposed to be at the finish.

At the Marriott, the DFMC sets up a runners refuge for after the marathon. We have space to get changed and get something to eat and a massage.  It's a place that is normally filled with high-fives and a lot of hugs and laughter.  It's a time that is usually spent with our DFMC teammates cheering the finishers and celebrating together, but yesterday was a somber gathering in front of the news wondering if everyone was okay.  On a normal marathon day, a steady stream of DFMC finishers makes their way to the refuge, but the runners stopped coming in....they weren't finishing and were were directed off course.  There was no immediate way to find out where everyone was.  We got changed and I was trying to quickly get something to drink and eat when volunteers came running in to tell us the hotel was being evacuated.

We were shuttled through the attached mall which had already been shut down and evacuated.  All of the stores were dark and closed up.  There were policemen with bomb-sniffing dogs making their way through and no one was being allowed in.  We were only allowed out one exit. 

Thankfully, my cousin lives in the South End so we started walking towards her house.  There were people everywhere.  Runners in the wrapped in their mylar blankets trying to stay warm.  Families looking for familiy members.  Sirens all around.  Helicopters overhead.  It was surreal.  Reports of more explosives.  Building lockdowns.  Evacuations.  And people were talking about bombs.

On our way, we bumped into our friends who had tried to get to their car but were sent away from teh parking garage.  The same family who had seen the explosions.  They walked with us to my cousins where we tried to piece together what was happening and reach out to our families and friends to let them know we were okay, and were able to find out about our other friends who we were concerned about.  As far as we could tell, everyone was safe.

About 3 hours after we finished, we were able to get our car from the garage where it was parked.  Our friends had to leave their car since the garage exit was still shutdown.  We all made it home, still in shock, happy to be together, happy to be safe, shaken, grateful, sad, confused, grieving.

We sat in disbelief as we watched news coverage of the days events.  Stunned disbelief and utter confusion about why and how this happened.

When I get up the morning after the marathon, it is usually a time to look back with excitement.  I usually sit back with a cup of coffee and watch the recorded TV coverage of the elite runners.  I download photos and read race reports from teammates and friends. 

But not today.  Today, I woke with a very deep sadness of the lives that were lost.  The unknown.  The "what-ifs" from yesterday.  I felt pride in this community this morning...the city of Boston and the surrounding areas, the larger running community, the friends and family who reached out in concern. 

There were volunteers and medical staff that ran towards the explosions.  There were runners who went directly to hospitals to give blood after they were stopped on the course.  Strangers were giving cold and tired runners food, money, cell phones, a place to sleep, a ride.  People joined together.

The spectators that line the Boston Marathon course are a huge part of what makes this race what it is.  Runners gladly take water, oranges, candy, beer from strangers along the course, and there is no doubt that the what they are offering is not tainted.  The is a trust between runners and the crowd.   They make hilarious signs.  They dress up.  They play music.  They scream your name, your number, your charity.  They give you hugs, high-fives.  They make you go.  All 26.2 miles.  Runners expect the sore legs, the black toenails, the exhaustion.  We ask for it.  These fans, they just go out to make the runners feel better.   The people that were injured yesterday were fans.  Spectators.  Family members and friends.  Children.  The timing was of these explosions was intended for everyday people out supporting one of the signature events in this area.

We found out today that a friends' daughter was injured in the second blast.  She is a college student in Boston and was walking into the Apple store.  She is going to be okay, and was released from the hospital today.  And sadly, if it is even okay to say, she's one of the "lucky" ones. She will recover, at least physically.  Emotionally, this will take a toll on everyone.  And I can not stop thinking about the young boy who gave his dad a hug as he finished and then walked back to where the explosion went off.  Young Martin represents the children of so very many of the runners who ran yesterday, and who treasured the kisses and hugs of their children kids so much more deeply today.  So many lives will never ever be the same, and there are many obstacles and a lot of healing to be done.  I hope our community that has rallied so much in the last 24-hours fights on for these people over the very long road, and lets them know that they are not alone.

As runners for charity programs, we have strong resolve to create and foster change.  We are all out there for a reason, driven by personal experiences.  To fight back, to give back, and to persevere. We were the third wave runners making our way across or towards the finish line when these explosions went off.  At the Dana-Farber pasta party on Sunday, the Boston Marathon race director stopped by to share his thoughts with us. Dave McGillivray believes in giving back.  He began the charity program with the BAA, and he reminded us of the importance of the work we were doing by raising funds through running.  He implored us to keep going. 

And we will.  I can't fully wrap my head around what happened yesterday.  There are too many what-ifs and too many tragic ends to what began as a beautiful day.  There were thousands of people out there representing months of hard work, from 50 states and even more countries.  Runners are a tight group.  The large majority of us were not racing each other.  We were not out there to win.  We were trying to carry each other across 26.2 miles.  Helping each other beyond the finish line.  Uniting in trying to achieve a common goal.

I am shaken, but I am not deterred.  The reason I run is too important, too necessary.  This team has done so much good and we provide hope.  The reason why we run has not changed, nor has the end result of $4.6 million dollars for necessary cancer research.  That can not be taken away or altered.  We can not let yesterday's events detract from what we've accomplished, and what we still have to do.  Our collective spirit is much, much bigger than that. 

The number of text messages, email, phone calls, and house visits that we have all received since 2:50 p.m. yesterday has been moving and overwhelming and emotional.  I am blessed and thankful for my friends and for my family, and for your compassion and concern.  Never in a million years did I dream that such a beautiful and special event for our family could turn into something so gravely disturbing and heartbreaking.  Thank you for sharing the love with us all.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Keep Calm

I never thought I'd be writing this post 5 years later.  I never imagined the turns that life would take that would bring me to this day, two days out from running the Boston Marathon for the fifth time in Memory of Molly, Mary, and John.   

In Memory.  Those words knock me down every time.

As the marathon gets closer, I get more emotional and spend a lot of time thinking back about the people, the experience, the miles.  People ask a lot what I think about when I run.  I don't usually run with music, so my train of thought is kind of all over the place when out on the roads for an hour or three at a time.  I make "to-do" lists, negotiate with myself, solve all kinds of problems, try to not think about how much further or if something hurts, enjoy the scenery, and very often think of the many, many reasons I am out there running.  I jump from one thing to another from minute to minute, mile to mile.  My thinking in the days leading up to the marathon has been very similar to when I am out running....all over the place. I've been jotting down notes about what I wanted to say in one last post before the start, and there is so much....so in the same vein as when I am running...here's a kind of train of thought rambling (and I mean rambling) reflection.....

I am going to start and finish by saying thank you.  Thank you, thank you.

I would not be running for the fifth year if it was not for the support of so very many people, from so many different times in my life and many whom I have never met.  My kindergarten teacher.  My kids' kindergarten teacher.  College roommates. Friends of Molly, Mary and John.  Kids who I have coached.  My soccer teammates from U12 up through high school.  My husbands' family.  DFMC teammates.  My parents' grade school and high school classmates.  Friends of friends of friends.  The amazing Ride for Life ladies of Chattanooga.  Gina B who ran and garnered support.  March Madness pool participants.  Neighbors.  Friends.  Family.  Over 400 different people have contributed over the five years.  400 people who know the impact of cancer.  It's humbling and I am honored and constantly overwhelmed by it.

I started out 5 years ago with a goal of around $8000.  I was afraid of that number, and wasn't sure I was going to get there but I thought I would give it a try.  I had good reason to give it a try, and went past it that year, and every year since.  As a matter of fact, as of today "Team Jennie" has raised over $150,000 for innovative cancer research at Dana-Farber.  $150,000.  This money is making a difference and it is because together, we have collectively made gifts to these amazing researchers who are using these funds to bring us to a world where cancer is not taking lives.  I can't write a check for $150,000 but I can run and I can ask for help, and I am so thankful that it has been given so generously.

We have a group of team members affectionately recognized as "Living Proof."  They are cancer survivors who run the marathon.  As we gather marathon morning for a team picture, these heroes among us are gathered for a picture and it brings me to tears as they are surrounded by a sea of applause from their teammates who are honored to be lining up beside them.


On my singlet, I wear the names of over 150 of your family members and friends who have been diagnosed with cancer.  Some are "in honor" and many are "in memory" and all are meaningful and important and I think it makes my legs feel a little lighter over the miles.  Thank you for sharing your stories with me...I do think about you and about these amazing people who cross the finish line with me.

People need to put their shopping carts back when they are finished with them.  This drives me crazy.  Don't leave them in the middle of the parking lot, please.

Once you get moving when it is 20 degrees outside, it isn't so bad if you are dressed correctly.  Don't get me wrong...I don't like it, but I never, ever, ever thought you would catch me running outside when the temperature was below freezing but I've made it through 5 winters with only a little bit of complaining.  Okay, maybe a lot.  But it really isn't too bad.

I am so thankful for all of the kindness and the generosity that has been shown, but in all honesty, I am do not at all like the reasons that brought me to this place...to run to fund cancer research in memory of my young and fantastic sisters and brother.  My family got knocked down by this disease, but we are not going to be beaten by it.

On average, I run about 500 miles during each training season.  Probably easier to take the train.

As we were heading out for our last long run last weekend, many people were gathering at a local church for the funeral of a young mother in town who lost her life to cancer.  I did not know her, but know many that were her friend.  Any relief or excitement felt after finishing that last long run was tempered by the mourners exiting the church, a vivid reminder of exactly what that last long run, and every training run, was for.  I saw a friend who had been at the funeral right after we finished running, and she said to "go kick cancer ass."  That's what we're doing.  I just don't want any reminders like that.  It's too much.

Don't get a puppy in the middle of winter.

I should have started doing this when I was younger.  I am impressed by the college students and recent college graduates that are members of this team.  When I was that age (throughout my 20s), my exercise was mostly throwing darts and walking home from a bar.  I was an expert napper.  At this age, training gives me an excuse to go to bed at 8:30 (which I often do even when I am not training), but I kind of think there wouldn't be so many body parts screaming at me after the long runs.


I don't feel very comfortable asking for donations, and hitting the "send" or "post" button before sending out my fundraising letter or making a post on Facebook always causes me to pause.  But what I always come back to is how important this is and that the funds aren't going to me.  It all goes to for cancer research, and that makes it much easier.  Given the number of times I post, you must be chuckling but it's the truth.  It is outside of my comfort zone, but we are the advertisers of this research program and you aren't inundated with TV ads or commercials...a few emails and Facebook posts aren't too much when we are helping to cure cancer!

PLEASE don't run/walk with traffic.  Run on the opposite side of the road FACING traffic.  It's so much safer.  The one downside to running on that side....never trust that people who are coming up to an intersection to make a right hand turn are going to look right, which is where you are running.  They are often looking to the left to check for oncoming traffic, and not for pedestrians coming from the right.  Almost been hit many, many times.

The DFMC team has a fantastic support network with each other, but we also have incredible and dedicated staff members, volunteers, and a coach who help out throughout the season. They make this so much easier for us...and they make us feel like stars in the process when they are digging in and doing so much work behind the scenes to make this crew successful.  THANK YOU for the encouraging messages, the water stops, the cheering sections, the cookies, the well-organized information, emails, training plans, answers, etc.  Our team goal is $4.6 million dollars this year, and we are well on our way.

Say "hello" or "good morning" or just give a smile or a little wave to people you pass when out walking or running.  Don't put your head down and avoid eye contact.  It's a buzz kill.

Maybe I am naive, but throughout the years of treatment and surgery and relapses that Molly, Mary and John went through, I always had hope.  Hope that that one new drug would work.  Hope that surgery would successfully remove all signs of cancer.  Hope that the next best thing was around the corner.  It helps you get out of bed in the morning...feeling like there is something better.  If you don't have that, what do you have?  I still have hope.  For my parents.  For my kids.  For my friends.  For all of us.  That is what keeps me running.

I got a wonderful opportunity to go in a talk to three third grade classes yesterday about the marathon and training.  One of the classes had started their own challenge to collectively walk or run a marathon during a few minutes of recess each day.  Over two weeks, they completed almost 9 marathons, and their enthusiasm and excitement really was contagious.  They were a clear reminder of what can be fun about running, and how lucky I am to be able to use something that is so good for me mentally and physically to do something important to help others.

Without my family, I would not be who I am today.  I have tried many times to explain in words what my parents mean to me, and how despite everything they have been through, they still find time to laugh.  They find time for others.  They find time to support me.  They created a family where each of us never stops believing in the other, and they did so by setting a strong example of kindness and strength and fun and respect.  My sister, Katy, and I are sticking together more than ever.  There is a part of who we are that is forever missing, and our adult lives are forever changed because of the absence of Molly, Mary and John.  Our plans are altered, but we have each others back.  We all always did, and always will.

My husband and kids keep believing.  They are my biggest supporters and looking for those faces at Mile 18 keeps me plugging along.  My children learned a lot of hard lessons at a very young age because of cancer, and they learned that life isn't fair.  But we have to keep moving forward.  And have dance parties.  And celebrate their aunts and uncles, and the legacy they left for them and for their cousins.  It takes a lot of time away from the house to train each season, and I am blessed to have the understanding of this crew every time I head out the door.  And when I need a nap after I come back in.

So, THANK YOU.  Those words are not big enough to encompass the gratitude I feel for all of the support that has been shown to me, my family, and this cause.  This result of $150,000 is not for me, nor by me.  It is for all of us, and it has been done by all of us...we as a team have reached this amazing result.  I'll be thinking of this tribe of cancer ass-kicking people who have carried me to today, and to Monday, and through each of the days from the beginning of this journey until now.

Be Good.  Be Strong.

With so much gratitude and hope,
Jennie

Monday, April 8, 2013

Yard Sale

Last fall, our neighbors moved from their house after living there for about 40 years.  They had finally realized the house had become too much to care for and they moved to an assisted living facility so they could take care of themselves, and each other, without all of the daily stress that comes with taking care of the house.  It was a tough decision and a tough move, but probably the right one.

Their daughter came and stayed with them for 3 months to help them sort through 40 years of "stuff" that had found a permanent spot in their house.  Books, dishes, clothes, letters, photos, lightbulbs, furniture, trinkets and keepsakes, paperwork...you name it, I think they had one of them tucked away in a drawer or in the attic.  It's the stuff that surrounds most of us....pieces of our past that provides us comfort, things we think we need, or papers we feel we have to keep.  Put it in a file, stuff a box in the attic, throw it in the garage.  And let it sit for someday.


As happened with our neighbors, the time comes, whether it be necessary or just by choice, that we have to make a move and it forces us to start to digging through what has accumulated and figure out what really matters...what we really need.  It's an emotional journey, deciding what you can't live without and what you've been hanging onto because you feel you should or because maybe you think it is important to someone else that you have it.  And the stuff that needs to go...it get laid out in the driveway for a yard sale, put in a big black bag for the dump, or even placed by the side of the road with a "free" sign available to the first willing passerby. 


When we moved 7 or 8 years ago, in order to get the house ready to show, we boxed up a lot of stuff to put in storage until the move was to take place.  The house "showed better" with clear counters and empty closets...bigger, brighter, better.  We also made some easy fixes to things in the house that made a huge difference....fixes that we had just let slide because after a while, you settle in and stop seeing the little imperfections like the door that needed a coat of paint, the hole that could use some spackle, or the jiggly doorknob that needed a quick tightening.  Until you take the time to look around you with a fresh set of eyes, you just live with the undone, unfinished little things.   When you see things every day, you get used to them, but when you are preparing for a move, we are forced to take a step back and pay closer attention to things that need a little work. And the fixes are made, but we do it for the potential buyers and not for ourselves.  How often do you hear people lament that they waited so long to make improvements and that they wished they had done those things for themselves when they were living there?


Why do we wait for a move or a big life changing event to make these changes?  Why not take a step back today...see what needs to be cleared out or repaired and make those changes for ourselves and not for the next owners or tenants.  Keep the things we need and bag the things we don't.  We so often let our lives get cluttered with junk instead of just figuring out what is important.  On a regular basis, we need to take the time to reassess and set priorities...remember what is valuable.

Mind you, I write this surrounded by a few piles of paper, 123 pencils that we might need someday, 8 books I might read again sometime, a few zillion magazines with pictures I may someday need to refer to, plus a few mixed tapes from college that I have kept despite not having a cassette player in the house.  It's a hard to take an honest look at the luggage we carry from place to place,  and to weed out the extraneous stuff.  But by taking the time to step back and be reminded of our priorities and what makes us happier, it can certainly make things brighter and bigger and more comfortable...and we all "show better" as a result!