CELLmates Take on Boston Marathon

May 31, 2017

By Tim O’Neill

In 2006, my then 33-years-young wife, Kirsten, was diagnosed with Stage III rectal cancer. Her diagnosis was completely unexpected; she was young, a non-smoker and in overall good health. She had chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. Thankfully, we navigated the treatment with an excellent team of healthcare providers, loving family and caring friends.

About three months into her treatment I decided to address a nagging swollen lymph node under my jaw. Fully expecting a Lyme disease diagnosis, I was dismissive. But considering what my wife was going through, I thought I’d better be safe than sorry.

I never thought I’d find myself wishing for a good case of Lyme disease – instead, I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. My disease was slow growing, treatable, but incurable.

Tim and Kirsten O'Neill
Tim and Kirsten O’Neill

Despite my diagnosis, I was able to work and care for Kirsten while she underwent countless procedures, tests, and — thank God — a return to good health. In 2008, my disease had progressed to the point where it required treatment and I received eight rounds of chemo before going into remission.

However, my leukemia returned in 2011 and I opted to seek treatment through clinical trials at Dana-Farber. The word you want to hear your oncologist say is “miraculous,” and that’s the word he was using. Now, I’m back in a full remission.

Throughout my treatment, doctors would make comments about patients with a similar diagnosis who were able to travel, sail and stay active. I would latch on to those anecdotes and think, “why not me?” I decided that I wanted to be one of those stories that my oncologist could tell the next person he treats. That’s why I will be running 2014 the Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) team, which raises money for the Claudia Adams Barr Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research. I’ll be joined by my wife and our friend, Dan. Together we call ourselves the CELLmates.

Tim and Kirsten O'Neill
Tim and Kirsten O’Neill

Fundraising through DFMC is the least I can do to give something back to the program that’s keeping me, and others like me, alive. The run will also be about providing hope and support for all the patients and their families. Not everyone’s story ends badly. Some people get better, and get on with living. And the funny thing is, you don’t hear about them, because they do just that — they cross the goal line, they dust themselves off and they move forward.