Brain tumor patient inspires hope as a Jimmy Fund Walk Hero

Often referred to as an “Ambassador of Hope” Wendy O’Neil joins 51 other Dana-Farber patients as a 2017 Jimmy Fund Walk Hero in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai.

As a Jimmy Fund Walk Hero, Wendy’s picture will appear on the mile-markers that line the Boston Marathon course to inspire participants to raise funds for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund’s mission to conquer cancer. Wendy, herself, will be among the more than 9,000 anticipated walkers participating in the event this year.

“This will be my sixth-year walking,” said Wendy. “I walk to help fund a cure for brain cancer, which I have been battling for seven years.”

Although she is currently finished with cancer treatment, Wendy still visits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute regularly for appointments. She also makes a point to attend the Brain Tumor Support Group meetings co-hosted by Nancy Tharler, MSW, LCSW and Debra LaFrankie, RN, OCN, Team Captain of the Jimmy Fund Walk team, Team Neuro, and a nurse on Wendy’s oncology team.

Reflecting on the emotional moments that brought her to Dana-Farber just over seven years ago Wendy said:

“I was having dinner with my daughter, Tommi, when I began experiencing symptoms of what I thought was a stroke. My husband was out of town at the time, and the only thing I could think was ‘Oh my God, my 10-year-old daughter is going to have to call an ambulance for me’ and then as soon as it came, the sensation was gone.”

As the primary caregiver for her father who was ill at the time, Wendy waited to seek out answers until she experienced the sensation again.

“I met with several doctors before visiting a neurologist. When the MRI came back I could see the tumor,” Wendy continued. “I looked at him and said, ‘What is that?’ and he told me that we were going to find out what it was together. He knew it was a brain tumor, but not what kind. That’s when I asked to come to Dana-Farber for a second opinion.”

Wendy’s husband, Tony, drove her from Maine to her first appointment at Dana-Farber.

“When I received the official diagnosis, I remember being so thankful my father had recently passed because I didn’t want him to have to worry about all of this. In the same way, I thought about my daughter. I looked at the doctor and I said, ‘At least give me 10 years.’ I wanted 10 years to live so I could see my daughter graduate and know that she would be okay,” said Wendy.

Wendy’s daughter, Tommi, is now 17 years old and will be a senior in high school. She has already begun taking college curriculum courses at the local vocational school and hopes to become a nurse.

“I believe her desire to become a nurse is due to all the support she has witnessed Wendy receive here,” said Helen, Wendy’s Aunt and one of the many family members that have accompanied her to appointments and her Brain Tumor Support Group meetings. “She wants to make an impact in the lives of cancer patients and their families. Each member of their family has turned this situation into a positive experience for them. Wendy and her husband, Tony, were always a quiet and reserved couple and through this experience they have found their voice. And I have never once heard Wendy, Tony, or Tommi say ‘why me’ during all of this.”

“I’ve certainly thought it,” Wendy laughs before resuming her poised demeanor and continuing. “We need to find a cure! I walk in honor of many people – all my friends that I have met through the Brain Tumor Support Group that are still living and in memory of those that have passed away from this dreadful disease. I’ll say it again, we need to find a cure!”

Look for Wendy’s smiling face on her Jimmy Fund Walk Hero sign along the course and in the crowd as she takes steps to find a cure for cancer at the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk on September 24, 2017.

Erica Equi

Assistant Director, Online Marketing