“As a breast cancer survivor, seeing my eldest daughter face cancer herself was heartbreaking,” recalls Paula Keogh, who was treated at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute nearly three decades ago. “Initially, Sarah tried to hide the fact that she had found a lump in her breast. She was only in her early 30s.”
When Paula learned of Sarah’s lump, she instantly scheduled an appointment with a Dana-Farber oncologist, who confirmed that the mass was cancerous. Sarah opted for surgery; a double mastectomy with TRAM flap reconstruction, followed by chemotherapy.
After completing chemotherapy, plans moved forward for surgery to treat an abdominal infection that had developed. Sarah began a series of standard pre-surgery testing—which, despite Sarah being told that chemo would make her infertile—included a pregnancy test. Against all odds and to everyone’s surprise, Sarah was pregnant.
Fear mounted that chemo may have impacted Sarah’s pregnancy. Doctors continued to treat her infection, a condition that posed severe risk to the baby.
On February 21, 2006, against all odds, MacKenzie Hope Keogh, Sarah’s beautiful, healthy “miracle” baby entered the world via C-section, her middle name a testament to all she and her mother had already overcome. Tragically, Sarah passed away just six years later, though not as a direct result of her cancer.
For the past five years, Paula and 15-year-old MacKenzie have walked in the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai as part of team BRCA1 Strong, in honor of Paula’s cancer experience at Dana-Farber and in memory of Sarah. The team is named after the BRCA1 gene mutation, which increases the risk of breast and other cancers, and is carried by many members of the family. MacKenzie isn’t old enough to be genetically tested to see if she inherited the gene, but she walks to raise funds for Dana-Farber’s cutting-edge research, in hopes that more patients become survivors. The pair are both Pacesetters, an elite group of top fundraisers.
MacKenzie takes to her neighborhood to fundraise, collecting recyclables and selling cupcakes to raise awareness for breast cancer. She is determined to spread the word about Dana-Farber’s lifesaving mission and to share her family’s story.
“You have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself and to give it your all,” MacKenzie tells her donors about her Walk experience. “Every step you take and every dollar you raise is making an impact in the fight against cancer.”
When Paula thinks about her own involvement with the Jimmy Fund Walk, she reflects on her experience as a Dana-Farber patient and of the dedicated breast cancer doctors and researchers. She also thinks of several friends who have been treated at Dana-Farber in recent years for lymphoma, myeloma, and ovarian cancer; all three are doing well now.
“Being part of an organization that has impacted so many lives and has brought hope to families is immensely fulfilling,” says Paula. “Every walker, every dollar raised, makes a difference in the lives of cancer patients—our family members, friends, and neighbors.”
For MacKenzie—the miracle baby who defied cancer before she even entered this world—the Jimmy Fund Walk brings feelings of comradery and purpose. “My favorite part is being around people who share the same commitment as you and hearing other people’s stories.”
On Sunday, October 2, Paula and MacKenzie plan to lace up for another Jimmy Fund Walk with Team BRCA1 Strong. They are determined to honor their courageous daughter and mother, to celebrate all they have overcome, and to help cancer patients everywhere.
To learn more about the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk, visit www.jimmyfundwalk.org. Your efforts will support The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.