The BLOG: Lifestyle

Running Marathons and Fighting Cancer

Dr. Weinstein at the Boston Marathon 2017 pasta dinner

Runners of last months Boston Marathon have been telling tales of the world-class legend-maker and heart-breaker for a month. For many, plans to push for the next 26+ miler are already underfoot, one step at a time.

Running any marathon is a serious challenge requiring commitment, training and guts. It’s a metaphor easily understood by families touched by childhood cancers. For race team members of the Cancer Center of Massachusetts General Hospital for Children each of their sneakers is laced with personal tales of hope, triumph and in some cases remembrance.

Gathering at the cross-roads of inspiration, determination and celebration the Seaport Hotel hosted a pre-marathon pasta extravaganza for kids, parents, clinicians and runners hours before the 121st running of Boston’s big race. MGH President Peter Slavin,MD. introduced the full-house to a seventy-year-old crusader in the fight against childhood cancers. With curly white locks and a twinkle in his eyes Dr. Howard Weinstein, MD.,chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology bound to the podium with a superhero’s pep in his step.

The crowd cheered as he announced “Against the advice of my own doctor, I’ll be running the Boston Marathon ~ again!” Inspired to run with others on behalf of the Children’s Cancer Center the Marathon Team has raised more than 13 million dollars over twenty years in support of research and child-life activities.

Both doctors Slavin and Weinstein spoke enthusiastically of advancements made in care-delivery, describing the Children’s Cancer Center as a state-of-the art, family-centric, facility dedicated to providing world-class personalized care to children of all ages. Speaking from experience 25 year old Kristin Santanello joined her physician, and friend Dr. Weinstein, on-stage to run through a few details of her life living with cancer.

It was a scheduled, pre-school visit at the family dental office of Dr. Ron Plotka that lead to the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia for the five year old. Now, as then, the Swampscott dental team affirms their belief in routine screening x-rays calling them “potential lifesavers”.

Directed to the Mass General Children’s Cancer Center the Santanello family began a two-year protocol of care that included surgery, chemotherapy, and countless prayers. As Kristin continued to share her inspirational journey from cancer patient to cancer survivor she smiled at the crowd saying ” Remembering back, the really scary part was seeing the look of fear on my parents faces. Once they looked Ok, then I was Ok.”

Mom Sandi recalls, “after speaking with the parish priest, the support of family and friends helped to make Kristin’s treatments seem routine.” She and husband Dan flipped into “work-mode” doing all they could to help their daughter whose frequent pre-occupation was trying to get a good seat in the clinic to play Pac-Man during her treatments.

Honoring his daughter’s struggles Dan became a marathoner and one of the first members of the dedicated race team with Dr. Weinstein. Guessing his sneakers have hit the trail between Hopkinton and Boston more than twelve times he estimates his marathon efforts and the generosity of well-wishers raised more than $130,000 in support of “Fighting Kid’s Cancer…One Step at a Time.”

As best she could Kristin kept-up with routine. In remission, she finished school and enrolled in college. To encourage other cancer patients, recognize her oncology team and thank her dad she was determined one day to follow his tracks to the Marathon. Making history in 2011, as the “First Former Pediatric Patient-Participant of the MGH Children’s Cancer Center” she finished the Boston with a time of 5:08:06.

Today, this graduate of Salem State University is a registered nurse who until this spring worked in the endoscopy unit of MGH. Kristin’s now at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital but didn’t hesitate to hop on a trans-con when asked to share her encouraging story with 50 children currently under-going care before they were paired on stage with runners of the Patient-Partner Program.

Recognized for their challenges, commitment and guts kids were ceremoniously awarded marathon medals as Miley Cyrus’ chart popper “The Climb” echoed throughout the ballroom. Mixing medicine with metaphor the race hasn’t ended. It goes on with hope, triumph and remembrance at the Massachusetts General Hospital Children’s Cancer Center. There, plans for the Marathon continue to be underfoot daily. Until there is a cure for pediatric cancer Dr. Weinstein and the team of medical marathoners are committed to “Fighting Kid’s Cancer… One Step at a Time.”

Massachusetts General Hospital for Children/ Cancer Center 617- 726 2737


“The Climb”

I can almost see it
That dream I’m dreaming
But there’s a voice inside my head saying
You’ll never reach it

Every step I’m taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking

But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head up high

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make a move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s going on on the other side
It’s the climb

The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I’m not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I’m gonna remember most, yeah
Just gonna keep on going

And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on.