For two Needham men, the upcoming Boston Athletic Association half-marathon will be about more than miles and splits.
Andrew Janower is running in honor of his daughter, 11-year-old Samantha, diagnosed at just three years old with a brain tumor; Sean Cantwell is running for his mother, who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer in Philadelphia.
They are part of a team of nearly 500 runners on the event’s official Dana-Farber team this year, according to a Dana-Farber press release. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund have partnered every year with the B.A.A. in the half marathon for the last ten years, and runners have raised more than $3 million dollars to fund research.
“When your kid has cancer, there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety about what the future will hold, and it’s very lonely because most of your friends don’t understand what you’re going through,” said Janower, 43. “There will be 7,000 people out there running, 500 of who are raising money for Dana-Farber. They’ve all been touched by cancer in some very important way in their lives. It’s an incredible experience.”
Today, he said, Samantha is stable. She’s been out of treatment for a few years. But her struggle has inspired her family and friends to raise money for a cure – especially for cancers like hers.
Brain tumors, he said, are tough to fight with chemotherapy, especially for little children. The blood-brain barrier that protects your brain from becoming sick when you have a cold, he said, also keeps your brain from absorbing much chemotherapy – which means that doctors have to pump more chemicals into the body to reach the brain.
“When you put these toxic drugs into little growing bodies, bad things happen,” he said. “A lot of the brain tumor kids have really bad long-term side effects. That’s why we need better treatment. We need drugs that get through the blood-brain barrier.”
Seven years ago, he said, his family started the PLGA Foundation – Samantha’s tumor is called a pediatric low grade astrocytoma. It is the most common form of childhood brain cancer, according to the PLGA Foundation’s website. According to the site, the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States estimates that there are more than 20,000 children with PLGAs today, and more than 1,000 new children are diagnosed with some type of astrocytoma brain tumor every year.
Through the PLGA Foundation, said Janower, they have raised about $10 million, and have given a number of large grants to the Dana-Farber through it. Over the same time period, said Janower, they have raised about $5 million directly for Dana-Farber.
“We’re really lucky. I see people through my foundation – kids with brain tumors who don’t have access to cancer centers like the Dana-Farber,” he said. “I’ve been all over the country with my kid, and there is no place like this in the country. It’s a jewel.”
Janower has never done a half-marathon before, he said.
“In fact, I’m not a particularly good runner,” he said. “I’m treating it as a personal challenge. My daughter’s fight inspires me.”
Sean Cantwell, 35, has run half-marathons in the past. Bad knees knocked him out of distance-running, he thought, for good.
But when his mother was diagnosed in May, he said, he felt helpless: his mom lives in Philadelphia, six hours away.
“I just wanted to do something,” he said. “I’m so proud of my mom and her fight against cancer and how brave she is. I wish I could be there every day to help her.”
The race, he said, seemed like a good way to feel like he was helping. His goal is to raise at least $2,500.
“I wish I could be there in person, but I can’t,” he said. “This is the next best thing.”
Cantwell’s wife and three daughters will be cheering him on. He’ll be running for them, too.
“Breast cancer is something that affects a lot of women,” he said.
The half-marathon will be held on Oct. 7. The course starts at Franklin Park in Boston at 8:30 a.m.
To donate to Cantwell’s race, go here.
To donate to Janower’s race, go here.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org