Former softball player to take the field at Fenway after ovarian cancer treatment

Gretchen Gavett fondly remembers summer trips to Boston from Maine as a child, to visit family members and take in a baseball game at historic Fenway Park. A softball player herself, Gretchen loved the atmosphere at the ballpark and seeing people who were the best in their sport perform. Her favorite snack? “Anything that came in a novelty baseball helmet,” she says with a laugh.

Today, Gretchen is 42 and finds herself in the Fenway Park area more frequently, living just a few miles away in the Brighton area of Boston, and recently undergoing treatment down the road at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for ovarian cancer.

In January 2023, Gretchen, an editor who moonlights as a CrossFit coach, learned she had the BRCA1 mutation, which raises the risk of many cancers, including breast and ovarian cancers. Her mother had recently received a second diagnosis of breast cancer and learned she had the gene, which led family members, including Gretchen, to seek out their own genetic information. Gretchen’s primary cancer doctor referred her to Dana-Farber’s Cancer Genetics and Prevention Clinic, one of the first clinical cancer genetics and prevention clinics in the world, providing comprehensive care to cancer patients, survivors, and their family members.

Gretchen and her mom

Through conversations with genetic counselors at Dana-Farber, Gretchen decided to pursue a risk-reducing surgery to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries. Through this procedure, doctors discovered she had ovarian cancer, a disease with no standard testing protocol and with symptoms many patients may overlook.

“I got really lucky to catch it early,” Gretchen reflects. “I had no symptoms at all. The genetic counselors and oncologists did a great job of explaining everything to me and they helped me feel good about my decisions around first the risk reducing surgery, then treatment.”

After her initial surgery, Gretchen was scheduled for a full hysterectomy six weeks later, followed by six cycles of chemotherapy, one every three weeks, to treat her cancer. She completed treatment in October 2023.

“I started the year not knowing I had a genetic mutation and finished it going through a few surgeries and chemo,” Gretchen says. “I credit Dana-Farber for giving me the information I needed to make these decisions.”

Gretchen during treatment

During her treatment, Gretchen had regular breast screening, both mammograms and MRIs, to monitor her risk of breast cancer. She also met regular with her oncologist and care team, and took advantage of psychosocial services such as a social worker and access to the Institute’s Young Adult Program, to connect with patients of a similar age.

“I always felt listened to and supported during a time that was very hard,” she says. “Everyone was so on top of what they were doing, professional, and kind. You feel like you’re in the best hands at Dana-Farber; it’s really top-to-bottom excellence.”

Today, a little over a year since her diagnosis, Gretchen is already working hard to give back to Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund and to pay it forward for future patients. She participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) Winter Cycle at Fenway Park in March and is riding 100 miles as part of PMC weekend this August, as the PMC community cycles toward $1 billion raised in support of Dana-Farber since 1980. (The PMC is Dana-Farber’s largest single contributor, accounting for 62% of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue.) She will also be back at one of her favorite Boston landmarks, Fenway Park, this summer as part of Jimmy Fund Day at Fenway presented by DraftKings, stepping up to the plate to take a swing at cancer.

“My family is prepared to watch and heckle me,” she jokes of Jimmy Fund Day, at which the former softball pitcher will take swings from the plate and spend some time fielding as well. “I love live sports and Boston sports in particular since the fans are so amazing, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Funds raised by events like the PMC and Jimmy Fund Day, and many others, are vital to advancing Dana-Farber’s research and care mission, a cause close to Gretchen’s heart.

“I’m a huge advocate for increased knowledge of hereditary cancers and improving equity around testing, so people can have the knowledge to make the best decisions for themselves,” she says. “The counseling I received was all research-based, and my doctors were really grounded in what we know and what we don’t, and explained that really well to me.”

“There’s no reliable early screening for ovarian cancer, which is part of why it’s so deadly, and not many options around risk reduction other than preventative surgeries. I know Dana-Farber is focused on research into screenings, which is what you’re supporting when you give, as well as the ability for people like me to have services like social work and other support services. These services help make a mentally and physically taxing experience that much less challenging.”

Donate today to send more patients like Gretchen to play on-field at Fenway Park during 2024 Jimmy Fund Day at Fenway. You can also join her at the PMC August 3-4, for routes ranging from 25 to 211 miles. Register today!

Your donations 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.