As I walked toward the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, my eyes welled up with tears. I couldn’t believe I was about to run the 2017 Boston Marathon. Dr. Samuel Agresta, one of my first Moffitt oncologists from 12 years ago, was by my side. "Thank you," I said. He was the one who encouraged me to run Boston.
I was first diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma – a rare bone cancer – when I was 23. Right out of college and two months into my first job, I went to a doctor after several weeks of nagging lower back pain. A CT scan revealed a large tumor in my pelvis. I immediately started treatments at Moffitt Cancer Center, which became like my second home as I went through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. After more than a year, I was cancer-free and ready to move on with my life.
In 2007, I competed in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii – a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. I’ll never forgot crossing the finish line after 15 hours of racing, hearing the announcer say, “Congratulations, Chad. You are an Ironman!” I felt more like an Ironman after surviving cancer, but the race was an experience of a lifetime. In the years following, with every clean bill of health, cancer became more of a distant memory. I got married and had two kids, Samuel and Charlee.
In 2015, my cancer unexpectedly came back. I was terrified. All too familiar with what I was facing, I was scared my wife and two young kids might lose me. When I went back to Moffitt, now 33, many things had changed. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) program, which was created to provide more support and resources for young patients.
Whether you’re a teenager or a young adult, being a young person with cancer is incredibly hard. There were times during my first battle when I felt isolated, with very few of my peers understanding what I was going through. AYA set out to change that – by connecting young patients at Moffitt, helping them with resources they need, and encouraging them that there is life
For me, having personal goals during treatment – something that didn’t involve cancer – was helpful. Boston was a big one. In the final mile of the race, with thousands of people cheering, I remember saying to myself, “This is your moment.” It seemed surreal. Part of me still couldn’t believe I had run the Boston Marathon. I was so thankful. Thankful for the amazing team of doctors, nurses and staff at Moffitt Cancer Center. Thankful that I can run and that I’m in remission again. Thankful that Sammy and Charlee still have their dad.
Chad is a Moffitt patient and two-time survivor of Ewing’s sarcoma. He lives in Lakeland, Florida, with his wife, Erin, and their two kids.