Had April 20 been a "normal" Monday, Dana-Farber Cancer
Institute colleagues Sasha Barajas and Brianna Harris might have
been working together on a clinical research protocol aimed at
improving the lives of cancer patients. That day, however, they
joined forces to fight the disease in a slightly different fashion:
With their feet.
Harris and Barajas ran the entire 113th Boston Marathon®
side-by-side as members of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge
(DFMC) team, crossing the finish line together. Like each DFMC
participant – including 17 other Institute employees – they tackled
the 26.2-mile course to raise money for the Claudia Adams Barr
Program in Innovative Basic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber.
Celebrating its 20th year, the Marathon Challenge has already
generated more than $39 million for the Barr Program and this year
is aiming to raise a record $4.85 million.
"It was a tremendous day," says Barajas.
For this pair of first-time marathoners, their
Hopkinton-to-Copley Square trek was a way to honor those close to
them with cancer as well as the patients and families they help
every day. Their accomplishment was also a physical affirmation of
their friendship, which began at a DFMC planning meeting last fall
and grew through months of training together.
"It's funny, we had been working on the same projects for a
while before we ever met, and it turned out we live a few blocks
away from each other," explains Harris, a clinical research
coordinator in Medical Oncology focused on multiple myeloma and
Waldenström's macroglobulinemia. "We run at exactly the same pace
and trained together three or four times a week leading up to the
Their workouts included long weekend jaunts with dozens of other
runners from the 562-member DFMC squad and Training Advisor Jack
Fultz (the 1976 Boston Marathon® men's champ), but it was the
countless weekday mornings that they met on the corner of Harvard
Street and Commonwealth Avenue to pump out a few miles before work
which really tested their mettle and cemented their bond.
"It makes a whole world of difference when its 5:30 a.m., cold,
dark, and you know somebody else is getting up to run with you,"
says Barajas, a human research coordinator who leads a team of
fellow employees in the Office of Human Research Studies in
assisting and advising Hematology Oncology investigators. "We
really learned how to push and support each other. A week before
the race she sent me an email saying she didn't want to run, but I
wrote back: 'C'mon, it will be over before you know it. You ARE
Both athletes had supporters cheering them on during the race
who found their efforts especially meaningful. Barajas' mother,
Linda, is a six-year breast cancer survivor who made the trip down
from Maine with Sasha's dad. Along the course, Barajas kept in mind
family friend Conny Lafrance, who is currently battling esophageal
Harris' father, Timothy, was diagnosed with kidney cancer two
years ago, and flew in from California with Brianna's mother for a
check-up at Dana-Farber. Both attended the race, too, but they were
not the ones screaming loudest for Harris.
At the Mile 25 point on the Beacon Street overpass leading into
Kenmore Square, 3-year-old Kylie Farhadi was waiting. Farhadi is
currently undergoing acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment in the
Jimmy Fund Clinic, and was paired with Harris through the DFMC
Partner Program, which matches runners with pediatric patients.
"It was really great seeing Kylie and her family at Mile 25,"
says Harris, who also visits them when they come to Dana-Farber for
weekly chemotherapy appointments. "They were cheering with pom-poms
and waving as we went by. Kylie and her mom called me after the
race and Kylie said 'Did you see my pom-poms? They were blue! Good
job!' It was adorable.
"I think she was just as excited as I was, and her mom gave me a
huge hug, which made me feel like I was actually doing something
meaningful for them. It definitely helps get you through the last
mile. I just kept telling myself, if this 3-year-old can fight
cancer, I can run this marathon. My fight lasts one day – or a few
hours. Hers is daily."
– Saul WisniaSaul_Wisnia@dfci.harvard.edu
Learn more about the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge
View photos from the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge 2009
View an audio slideshow of Barajas
This was photographed and produced by Boston University student
Margo Roy, who followed Barajas through her marathon
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