Longtime DFMC runner reflects on 26 years of 26.2

A long, winding road full of obstacles is a familiar sight for Cathy Troisi, a Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) runner and team member since 1995 (pictured above at the 2019 Boston Marathon®). She was thrown another twist in 2020, when her 26th Boston Marathon® went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cathy’s marathon-length running career goes back to a person who is her forever inspiration: her daughter.

“My daughter, a 5K runner, said, ‘Mom, you walk so fast, you should run.’ I said, ‘Never!’” Cathy proved herself wrong—first by completing the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon in the Walking Division. The goal to run a marathon was set in motion. What inspired Cathy most during the L.A. Marathon were the companions to blind runners, and with that motivation, she attended a running camp, perfecting the “run, walk, run” method to complete 26.2 miles. It was Cathy’s way to finish the course at a pace and style that suited her best. Next up: Her first Boston Marathon with the DFMC team in 1995. During her 26 years on the DFMC team, and at a wide range of marathons, she has accompanied cancer patients, survivors, and other compelling athletes including Para Division mobility- and vision-impaired participants and a heart transplant recipient.

Cathy finds motivation to keep running every year from her teammates and, mostly, her family. Her daughter was diagnosed with stage 3C colon cancer in 2005, tragically passing away from her disease in 2007 at age 37, leaving behind her loving family including a five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

“My daughter’s diagnosis required 54 hours of chemo per treatment,” Cathy says. “To honor her, I assign each marathon mile two hours of chemo, including the last .2, which equals her 54 hours of treatment. It’s humbling to know, however challenging the Marathon and any associated variables are, it’s still easier than 54 hours of chemo, done 20 times.”

The support from her family has kept her motivated even during the hardest years. During the 2020 virtual Boston Marathon, Cathy ran on the Mohawk-Hudson Marathon course and bike path. At her 11th mile, Cathy’s granddaughter Ashley, a college sophomore, surprised her by running up beside her. “She rented a car and made the three-hour trip to surprise me and run a mile with me,” Cathy recalls. “Best hug ever!”

Cathy with her granddaughter, Ashley, during the 2020 virtual Boston Marathon for Team DFMC

Cathy keeps her daughter and others who have passed away in her heart during each run, as well as those who are still fighting, who show why the DFMC team’s fundraising is so important to Dana-Farber. She recalls the 2017 DFMC Pasta Party, when, after watching the video of pediatric patients, her hometown neighbor completing his second DFMC turned to her and said, “And that’s why we do DFMC.”

“The excitement of participating in the iconic Boston Marathon never pales, yet I never forget why I do DFMC,” Cathy says. “Regardless of the weather, I think there could be a Dana-Farber patient sitting in a chemo chair who’d prefer to be where I am, healthy enough to do what I’m doing, despite what Mother Nature gives us on Marathon Day.”

Cathy and her DFMC teammates, over 500 each year, raise millions of dollars for Dana-Farber’s Claudia Adams Barr Program for Innovative Basic Cancer Research. Through the Claudia Adams Barr Program, early-career Dana-Farber scientists are provided vital funding to pursue innovative studies of basic questions that can lead to breakthrough discoveries. Since its first steps in 1990, the DFMC community has raised more than $104 million.

Find out more about DFMC at RunDFMC.org.