My Goal and Why I Have One

Easter Sunday, April 16th, 2006

My training for the marathon began with surgery.  On March 17th I registered for the 2010 New York City Marathon as I lay in bed recovering from having my umbilical hernia repaired.  That gave me 5 weeks of rest before starting my 6-week training plan for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon.  If I could run that in May, then I knew I was in good shape for running the marathon in November.

My original goal was to finish the 26.2-mile race.  I had neither idea nor care about time.  I’d always considered myself a runner yet I had never even run a half-marathon up to then.  I estimated a 4:00 finish time upon registering, picking a conservatively realistic time out of the sky, denying (as I’m wont to do) my internal competitive spirit and confidence in my own abilities.

I ran 24 miles on August 14th in training and knew I could reach for something more than finishing.

I have a goal for the New York City Marathon – the part of this long, complex journey that I’ve left for me. This is why I run for me.


For those familiar with marathon times, this number should be no surprise.  For a man between the ages of 18 and 34 like me, I need to run in 3:10:59 to qualify for the Boston Marathon, a standard that 10.4% of marathon finishers achieve (7.9% of those younger than 34).  The BQ is a benchmark for serious runners, but that’s not why I’m serious about it.

Here’s a story that I’d have told to my friends at Gilda’s Club. They knew exactly where I was coming from; the depth and complexity of the emotions, the stresses and artificial timeframes that seemed so real when wrapped in world filled with cancer.  With them, I could leave out the boring details and just talk about how it felt.

Back in 2006, 9 months before Pegleg was born, Easter fell on April 16th, one day before my Mom’s birthday. By now we knew the cancer had metastasized, having spread throughout my Mom’s little body.  We’d already been through the high hopes with Avastin, then the rejection by her liver a few weeks later.

There didn’t seem to be a lot of options left, athough our hopes hung on the possibility of clinical trials that we knew were starting imminently at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Most of her treatments were at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, but Dr. Eric Winer at Dana-Farber oversaw her care.  My Mom had an appointment with Dr. Winer on April 17th – her birthday – for what felt like the only way to save her life.

If my Mom was going to live, we needed to get to Boston.

It was my Mom’s wish to celebrate Easter with her family as if cancer had not taken over our world; to be together, protected, by our shell of love and enjoy our time as a family, complete and whole.  Tough and determined, my Mom never communicated to us the pain she was in all weekend.  I had been in Maine for a few days when we learned on Sunday night that my Mom hadn’t gone to bathroom the entire time; the pain meds were wreaking their havoc on her digestive tract.  She was in a lot of pain. Was it caused by the slowdown of her digestive system? Or something more?

Quiet chaos descended on our household.  Did we need to take her to the local emergency room?  But if we did, and if she were admitted to that hospital, then how could we get to Dana-Farber the next day?  And if we couldn’t get to Dana-Farber the next day, how could we save her life?

Happy Birthday, Mom.

We did go to the little local hospital in Blue Hill, Maine, my brother Marcus heroically stepping up to drive and deal with the late-night events.  I couldn’t bear the thought of going; the strain was too much.  X-rays showed the abdominal pain to be from constipation so she was released.  We could still make it to Boston.

The drive to Boston would normally take 5 hours but we needed extra time with my Mom as sick as she was.  My Mom and Dad and Kim drove in one car, Juno and I in another.   We stopped at most rest areas on the way, helping my Mom to the restroom and seeing if she could eat.  She was strong inside for as weak as she was outside and determined to move on.  What’s normally a jaunt down the Maine Turnpike to the big city became an epic life-and-death journey for us all.

When we finally made it close to Boston, traffic snarled.  This seemed worse than normal for midday on a Monday.  We quickly realized today was more than the day after Easter, more than my Mom’s birthday, and more than the day of the most important doctor’s appointment of her life.  This Monday was Patriots’ Day in Boston.  Patriots’ Day – otherwise known as the day of the Boston Marathon.

The city was overrun with runners clogging the streets to the hospital.  How could we save my Mom’s life if we couldn’t even get her to her appointment because of some crazy running race?  It was stinging pain in an already infected wound.

After hours of discomfort for my Mom and anxious miles of stressful driving for us, we finally made it to the hospital and her appointment.  My Mom exhibited the determination she had throughout this battle to keep fighting on, to try to beat this cancer that had spread everywhere.  Unfortunately, her body wasn’t as strong as her will.  In her current physical state, her doctors said, she wouldn’t be eligible for these clinical trials even if they weren’t stalled in the medical/governmental bureaucracy.

My Mom stayed at Dana-Farber to have her chemo treatment that day.  I met with her doctors separately to express my concerns about the stress this was causing my Dad and the pain my Mom was in but perhaps not communicating.  Our hope was that she wouldn’t leave Boston until we at least had the pain under control.

The chemo treatment would take a few hours, so Juno and I were encouraged to keep going home to Brooklyn, to try to go back to our ‘normal’ lives for a bit.  My Dad and Mom and the doctors had everything under control for now and there wasn’t much more for us to do.  It was a sad goodbye in a strange hospital on a day that was a very unhappy kind of birthday.  Cancer does that.

So Juno and I left.  I had a bit of a silent, secret emotional breakdown in the parking garage before we left the strange shelter a hospital provides.  There, at least, you’re surrounded by serious medical conditions.  Most people are dealing with something major in a hospital.  Step outside, and the world comes rushing back in.  Step outside in Boston on Patriots’ Day and it’s something else entirely.

Trying to get through the streets to get us home took us right past the finish of the marathon.  The stark contrast of emotions between these healthy runners – marathon finishers – at the height of vitality and those patients in the cancer ward of Dana-Farber, poisoning their bodies drip by drip to try to kill the bad cells but also some of the good was profound.  And painful.

On Patriots’ Day 2006, my Mom’s 55th birthday, I didn’t think I would ever want to be one of those runners.

A lot of things have happened since April 17th, 2006, though.  On May 22nd, 2006, my Mom lost her battle with cancer surrounded by her loving family.  I was holding her hand.  On the night of January 7th, 2007, that car hit me.  Pegleg was born a few days later with 9 months of physical therapy to follow.  I got married to my lovely wife Juno on June 23rd – our 8-year anniversary.  Then, on December 31st, my birthday, I ran in the New Year’s Eve Run around Prospect Park – 51 weeks after being hit by a car, 1 week before I was expected to be able to run again.

Tomorrow, November 7th, 2010, I will run the New York City Marathon in better than 3 hours 10 minutes and 59 seconds, God willing.

If I don’t, though, I know that I’ve already achieved so many other of my goals. I’ve helped raise people’s awareness of Gilda’s Club and raised quite a bit of money so they can continue to serve in their important mission.  I’ve been in touch with so many far off friends and family.  I’ve been able to tell my story of my accident and to understand more fully how it relates to my Mom.  And, most of all, I’ve been able to honor my Mom, her life, her energy and her love.

But if I make it to Boston, I will run that race just for me.  And running for me is always, always for my Mom.


‘til tomorrow…

Run with me!

2 Responses to “My Goal and Why I Have One”
  1. Justine Moncrief says:

    That was really beautiful Pete. I consider myself lucky I get to cheer for you today.

  2. haas says:

    Thanks so much for opening yourself up for all of us these past few months. I honestly believe knowing you and reading your words and watching you run has produced far more good than you ever intended or humbly desired. I have recently become a sponsor for Gilda’s of Delaware Valley- again thanks to you.

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