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Boston Mayor Martin Walsh reflected on his successful fight against childhood lymphoma before an audience of 200 cancer survivors, family members and clinicians at last night’s annual celebration of survivorship at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The mayor was diagnosed at age 7 with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare, aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that primarily affects children. For the next four years, he received inpatient care at Boston Children’s Hospital and outpatient care at Dana-Farber.
“Every time I drive by, I think of those days,” Mayor Walsh said. “Watching the technology and science grow and how far since 1974 that technology and science has come is incredible. To the survivors out there you have courage, too. To the younger people, you don’t quite understand what it means yet, but as you get older you’re going to realize the fight you have, the strength that you have. To the folks that are a little older, you know the fight. For those of you that are being treated right now, I know the fight you’re going through.”
The mayor spoke at Dana-Farber’s tenth annual Living Proof: Celebrating Survivorship event, an evening of fellowship sponsored by the Perini Family Survivors’ Center. The center provides care and conducts patient-oriented research for adults in Dana-Farber's Adult Survivorship Program and for children in the David B. Perini, Jr. Quality of Life Clinic and the Stop & Shop Family Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Outcomes Clinic. The Perini Center also disseminates information on the medical, emotional and psychological challenges facing today's growing population of cancer survivors.
“You are all living proof that there has been progress in cancer research and cancer care,” Edward J. Benz, Jr., MD, president and CEO of Dana-Farber, told the audience in introducing the mayor. “In the United States, there are over 13 million people who have survived cancer. Within the next few years there will be 15 million. When I started practicing medicine in the 1960s, it was almost unheard of to survive cancer…. Mayor Walsh himself was a pioneer, one of the first to receive what we now know are effective treatments for this disorder.”
In the four decades since Mayor Walsh was diagnosed with lymphoma, research has fueled changes in treatment that led to dramatically improved survival rates for childhood cancer. According to National Cancer Institute data, the proportion of cancer patients under age 20 who survive five years or longer has risen from 59 percent in 1975 to 85 percent. In 1975, only 40 percent of children with non-Hodgkin lymphoma survived five years or more; now 84 percent survive.
“On January 6, I got sworn in at Boston College,” Mayor Walsh said. “I thought about the path that got me to that stage…. I also realized I would not be on that stage if it were not for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. There’s no question in my mind. I am proud to be a cancer survivor. I am honored that kids going through cancer can look to my story for hope.”