Dana-Farber patient runs Falmouth to support other cancer patients and families

Elizabeth Grip is currently training to run 7 miles along Cape Cod’s coastline, as she prepares to participate in her fourth ASICS Falmouth Road Race this August. She will be wearing the blue “Run for Dana-Farber” singlet proudly, along with her teammates who will also be fundraising to support Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s mission to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. Running has always been an important aspect of Elizabeth’s life, but being on Dana-Farber’s team is especially meaningful as she was diagnosed with essential thrombocytosis, a rare blood cancer in which the body’s bone marrow produces too many platelets, in 2016.

Elizabeth’s cancer journey began unassumingly with a routine blood test during her sophomore year of college, which revealed high platelet counts. Dana-Farber considers platelet counts between 130,000 and 400,000 as the norm, yet Elizabeth’s lab work showed over a million platelets at the time of her diagnosis. The immediate treatment protocol involved taking a baby aspirin each night and actively monitoring her platelet count over the next few years. “In summer 2020, I began to experience symptoms that raised a red flag,” she recalls. “As an avid runner at the time, I was finding myself cutting my runs short due to difficulty breathing. I also spent most nights on the couch experiencing tingling down one of my arms. When I received my bloodwork, my platelet level had doubled to more than two million.” Things began to move quickly from here, and she was officially referred to Ann Mullally, MD, a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute oncologist specializing in hematologic oncology

Elizabeth’s diagnosis was hard for her to grasp at first, as she was a healthy young adult just about to embark on her adult life. “It took me about a year to even say that I had cancer out loud,” she shares. “For me, it was the chronic part of the diagnosis that I struggled with most. There is a depiction of cancer you see in the movies, and I didn’t quite fit into that mold. It was jarring to have to respond, ‘as of right now, forever’ whenever a friend or family member would ask me how long I would be in treatment.” Elizabeth was introduced to a therapist and social worker at Dana-Farber, and notes that this was the start of her journey of understanding her identity and how her cancer diagnosis would fit into her life. “I was assured that cancer would not be my whole life, but just a piece of it,” she says. “I also learned to be mindful of the invisible disabilities all around me. Not everyone is going to look sick or like they have cancer, so it is so important to remember to treat everyone with kindness and empathy.”

Elizabeth’s treatment protocol entails taking Pegasys, a drug to lower platelet counts, on a biweekly basis. “Every other Sunday night, I order wings as a little treat for myself and give myself the injection,” she shares. “It’s self-administered at home and then for the next 24 hours, almost exactly, it feels like I have the flu or COVID. I’m usually down for the count and I am so grateful for my lovely fiancé, Rob, and my twin sister who have alternated taking care of me and being there for me. I met Rob two years into treatment. I remember mentioning my diagnosis when I had to leave a date early for my biweekly injection about a month and a half into dating. Later that night he showed up at my door with a McDonald’s McFlurry for me. He has been one of my rocks ever since, and we are getting married this May!”

Elizabeth (middle) pictured at the 2023 Falmouth Road Race with her twin sister Kristen (second from right), fiancé, Rob (far right), and Laps for Lab Mullally teammates.

Elizabeth’s experience as a young patient facing a disease with no cure has inspired her to take action. “Every time I visit Dana-Farber, Dr. Mullally is talking to me about physicians, like her, who are investing in research to see if they can uncover better treatment options,” Elizabeth says. “Obviously a cure would be fabulous and is the end goal, but I fundraise with the hope that there will be better, less severe treatment options that can help with my quality of life in the next five, 10, or 15 years of my lifetime, especially as I’m working full-time job while managing the side effects from treatment.”

Elizabeth decided to use her passion for running and challenge herself to join Dana-Farber’s team for the Falmouth Road Race. Now in her fourth season with the team, she has created her own group, “Laps for Lab Mullally,” within Dana-Farber’s larger team. “It was a no brainer to support Dr. Mullally’s work,” she shares. “I can’t speak highly enough of her and my entire care team. During my visits, she is checking in on my blood cancer and treatment plan, but also making such a point to support my whole self. Every single conversation includes questions like ‘How are runs going? How do you feel? Are you short of breath?’ She reminds me that my full self and long-term quality of life are equally important, and it continues to amaze me that my Dana-Farber team cares so much about me as a person.”

Elizabeth (right) presenting team Laps for Lab Mullally’s check to Dr. Mullally in front of the Imagine Display, located outside of Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic.

Elizabeth credits her entire support network for helping her through her cancer journey. COVID-19 was an especially tough time because she wasn’t allowed to bring visitors to her appointments, but the team at Dana-Farber made her feel welcome, comfortable, and even dialed in her parents, who acted as notetakers and sounding boards for her. “There are so many other people I could name—friends; co-workers; my two older siblings, Paul and Jess; this list goes on,” Elizabeth says proudly. “It takes an army, and I am so grateful for how they now help by supporting my goal of finding better treatment options, whether it is running beside me at the Falmouth Road Race or donating to support this important cause.”

As Elizabeth prepares for her upcoming wedding and 2024 Falmouth Road Race, she is focused on the future. Her participation in the race is a testament to her determination to live life on her terms and to do her part to contribute to a better tomorrow for all cancer patients.  “I would encourage anyone, whether you are a runner or not, to consider joining Dana-Farber’s team. The work that they do every day to improve patient care, advance research, and change the trajectory of what cancer patients are going through is unbelievable. Dana-Farber’s Falmouth Road Race team is a fun group all united through some sad stories and unique experiences with cancer, but it’s an awesome community to be a part of and I feel immensely proud to be able to contribute.”

Support Dana-Farber patients, like Elizabeth, by making a donation to support the 2024 Falmouth Road Race team today. Your donation 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.