Meet Alyssa: Walking to Conquer Cancer

Alyssa and her friends at the at the 2015 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.
Alyssa and her friends at the 2015 Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.

In August of 2010, I joined the staff in Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund’s Development office. Immediately, I recognized the compassion and dedication embodied by my colleagues. I had found my new home and had been introduced to a breadth of innovative cancer fundraising events and programs with which I could get involved personally. With the Jimmy Fund, you can walk, you can run, you can swim, you can swing, all to conquer cancer. I decided to walk.

The previous year, my dad had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. While his prognosis wasn’t good, he didn’t let it discourage him from fighting with all his might to beat this disease. He was enrolled in a clinical trial at Dana-Farber, and he was defying all odds in his response to the treatment. I was inspired by his determination and success, and directed that energy toward the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk, walking in his honor. That first year, I walked the full 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon® route, raising almost $900. The next year I stepped up my efforts and raised over $2,000, becoming a Star Pacesetter for the first time. I was hooked! I loved everything the Jimmy Fund Walk stood for, the people I met along the way, the difference we were making in the fight against cancer. That third year was bound to be a banner year. Only it took an unexpected turn.

In 2013, my dad stopped responding to the treatment. With the recommendation from his care team, he enrolled in another clinical trial. Only this time it was clear early on that he would not see the same results he had seen with the first trial. His health steadily declined and just a few months later, we said our goodbyes and laid him to rest. We were devastated to lose him, but grateful that he no longer had to suffer. We were comforted by the many memories we shared and the wisdom he had imparted on us.

Alyssa participates in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk in honor of her father.

In the days and years since his passing, I’ve thought a lot about that wisdom. I learned so much from witnessing his four-year battle with cancer. He approached even the largest obstacles with such dignity and grace (and of course his signature sense of humor!). He never complained – not about his situation or his fate, nor the pain or discomfort he experienced as a result of the disease. When I encounter a tough situation, I try to channel his strength in the face of adversity.

Last year, I again walked those 26.2 miles along the Boston Marathon® route. I’d be lying if I said it was easy. It hurt, but it paled in comparison to the challenges my dad and so many others have encountered in fighting this disease. That is my inspiration to get back out there, year after year, to pound the pavement, to raise funds for Dana-Farber.

I’m now in my sixth year of participating in the Jimmy Fund Walk. Cumulatively, I’ve raised more than $15,000. As both a Dana-Farber employee and a patient family member I’ve seen firsthand how those dollars have helped to provide the very best care to children and adults battling cancer, while simultaneously advancing research into lifesaving discoveries and developing more effective treatments. As I prepare to lace up my sneakers on September 25, I’m hoping to raise an additional $5,000 so that one day we’ll reach that ultimate finish line: a world without cancer. A world where loved ones are not lost to this terrible disease.

Alyssa Berman
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Division of Development