With two family members now recovered from cancer, the Sampsons want to repay the doctors, nurses and clinical staffers of Massachusetts General Hospital who helped keep their tight-knit clan intact. Mark, Jordan and Kaitlin will run as members of Mass General’s Pediatric Hematology Oncology marathon team, raising money for cancer care and research initiatives that enhance the quality of life of young cancer patients.
Michael Sampson, the youngest of Mark and Jodi Sampson’s three children, was long under the care of the hospital’s Division of Pediatric Hematology & Oncology after being diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer when he was 22 months old. Given only months to live, Michael is now 21 and living happily with his parents in their Middleton, Massachusetts, home.
The Sampsons believed they had endured more than enough of cancer after Michael’s many medical procedures at Mass General. But in 2006 and again in 2013, Jodi separately battled cancer in each of her breasts, receiving radiation treatments at Mass General. It would have been enough to devastate most families, but the Sampsons persevered, drawing on their religious faith and love for one another.
That’s why, with everyone now healthy, Mark, Jordan and Kaitlin are determined to make the 2018 Boston Marathon a special family affair. “The girls were excited to give back to the pediatric oncology program,” Mark says of his daughters. “They were young when I ran the Boston Marathon in 2000 and 2001, so it will be great to run together and help Mass General.”
Beating the Odds
In 1998, Mass General doctors discovered that the cancer on the right side of Michael’s brain had metastasized to his spinal fluid. Radiation treatment would have been harmful because he was an infant, so he instead underwent a stem cell transplant and chemotherapy for five years.
Jordan, now 27, and Kaitlin, now 25, were too young to realize the extent of Michael’s medical struggles, but they’ll always remember the care and kindness that the staff of the Pediatric Hematology & Oncology division extended to their family. “The hospital was fighting for us with everything they did during my brother’s stay, caring for him and us,” Kaitlin recalls. “They always took good care of us and definitely went above the call of duty.”
Michael still has to occasionally receive treatment, a routine that has included more than 20 surgeries at Mass General over the years to replace shunts that blocked and couldn’t effectively drain brain fluid. Michael suffered brain damage when he was younger, but lives “as full a life as he can,” Jodi says. He attends Northshore Education Consortium, a school for children and young adults with disabilities, and works at Market Basket. “He’s a blessing to our whole family,” Jodi says.
Inspired by Her Son
When Jodi was diagnosed with cancer in her right breast in 2006, Jordan and Kaitlin were then teenagers, and the significance of the disease hit them hard. Jodi made it a point to not change her daily routine, and her daughters noticed. “She raised three kids, and still went through radiation every morning at Mass General but was back in time for us to go to school in the morning,” Jordan says.
To get herself through the battle, Jodi was inspired by Michael’s fight. “Michael taught me a lot,” Jodi, 55, recalls. “I learned so much from my son. I told him I had to go to Mass General to be treated like he was. All he said was, ‘Mom, just be brave. Just be brave.’ Here I was getting advice from a young kid with an old soul.”
She again drew inspiration from Michael after cancer was found in her left breast in 2013, and also found comfort in the advice of Barbara Smith, MD, PhD, who is director of the Breast Program and co-director of the Women’s Cancers Program at Mass General. “I love her,” Jodi says. “She is very pragmatic. She said after we found it the second time, ‘You know what, Jodi? It’s just bad luck. Let’s just do this, and do that, and you’ll get better.’ ” And Jodi did get better.
“I really feel like I can call Mass General my second home,” she says. “I feel at ease there.”
Running as a Family
Kaitlin and Jordan, who live in South Boston, often train together. On many weekends, Mark joins them. The sisters run at the same pace and are usually within 100 yards of one another, fueling their hope that they will finish the Boston Marathon together. They might not be able to keep up with their dad. “He’s impressive for 57 years old,” Kaitlin says. “He’s an excellent runner.”
Whenever Mark experiences physical discomfort after a long training run, he thinks about the many struggles Michael has had. “These patients have gone through so much in their lives that four months of marathon training doesn’t compare,” Mark says. “I feel like if Michael can go through what he did, I can do this.”
John Hancock-Mass General Marathon Partnership is Powerful Source of Support
For 21 years, John Hancock’s partnership with the Mass General Marathon Program has been a powerful source of support for hospital programs. John Hancock provides Mass General runners with invitational entries for the race.
Mass General’s Pediatric Oncology Team has raised more than $13.4 million since it was formed in 1998. Funds from this team’s runners support research and child life activities for children with cancer. In 2014, the Boston Athletic Association awarded Mass General additional entries to create the Emergency Response Team. Today, thanks to John Hancock, Mass General maintains 40 entries for runners on our Emergency Response Team. This effort honored the lifesaving response of hospital personnel following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Since its launch, that team has raised more than $1.4 million for the hospital’s emergency preparedness and disaster training.
In addition to these teams, runners who obtained their own entries for the Boston Marathon will run for the Run for MGH team, which raises funds for Mass General programs close to their hearts. Programs being represented by 2018 runners include The Cancer Center, Caring for a Cure, Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome, The Lurie Center and the Mootha Lab.
To learn more about the Mass General Boston Marathon Program, please visit our website.
This story was first published on the MassGeneral Hospital for Children website.