Ten years ago, CJay DiPrima was spending most of his time hooked up to an IV receiving chemotherapy, undergoing proton radiation therapy, or doing his best to rest and recover from the intensive treatment regimen he was undergoing.
Diagnosed with grey zone lymphoma at age 19, a rare and aggressive subtype of lymphoma with features of both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, CJay found his life suddenly upended. His diagnosis required him to drop out of Franklin Pierce University after his first semester, quit running track, a sport he’d participated in since high school, and turn all his energy to overcoming this disease.
“It started with really bad throat and neck pain. I noticed a slight bubble in my throat, which ended up being caused by a softball-sized tumor in my chest that was pushing my trachea to the side,” CJay recounts. “It was tough to get a diagnosis. We even hit a point where we thought it was just bad acid reflux causing the throat pain.”
There is no standard treatment for grey zone lymphoma; CJay’s care team at Mass General for Children (MGfC) put him on a treatment plan that they had seen successfully treat similar types of lymphoma, and after five months of chemotherapy and an additional month of proton radiation, CJay was in remission. “I am so grateful to the expert doctors and nurses who saved my life,” he says. “Not only were they extremely professional, but some of the kindest people I have ever met.”
Today, CJay is working toward his Master’s degree in Digital Marketing and has just become a father to his newborn son. And, now ten years in remission, he is playing a different role in the Mass General cancer community; he is running his first Boston Marathon® in April 2023 as a member of the Mass General Marathon team, to support the Pediatric Hematology / Oncology unit that he credits with saving his life when he was battling lymphoma. CJay’s initial goal was to raise $10,000 by the fundraising deadline this May, and by late January he had already raised $12,000.
Accomplishing a Lifelong Goal
As a pediatric cancer patient in 2013, CJay was paired with a Mass General marathon runner named Bonnie through the Mass General for Children (MGfC) marathon-patient partner program. The program pairs a runner fundraising for MGfC with a current pediatric cancer patient in order to build community and a connection between the runners fundraising and the young people they’re fundraising for. “She was, and still is, an inspiration to me,” CJay says. “From that moment on, running in honor of another pediatric cancer patient has been my inspiration.”
CJay recalls attending the Mass General Marathon Team pasta dinner the night before the 2013 Boston Marathon with Bonnie and his physician, Howard Weinstein, MD, where he was surrounded by the love and support of the whole community. The next day, he met up with Bonnie at Mile 20, at Dr. Weinstein’s home, an iconic Mass General Marathon Team gathering place, and was even able to run what he says was “probably a tenth of a mile” with her. Moments later, those gathered received word of the bombing that had occurred only a short distance away at the finish line.
Since that day, he has held onto his life goal of running the Boston Marathon for Mass General, and specifically for pediatric cancer patients.
Rekindling a Passion for Running
A lifelong athlete, CJay has found the transition to marathon training to be a natural one for him. “I’ve always been motivated to stay active,” he says. “I actually start to feel down if I’m not able to exercise the way I usually do.” His diagnosis marked the end of his track career, but, as an adult, he is finding a new love for long distance running.
“When I think about the kids I’m supporting that are in the same position I was once in, and as a new dad, when I think about seeing my son at the finish line, it makes those hard moments during training easier,” he says.
CJay is supporting current patients in more ways than one: as a patient partner, a fundraiser and a symbol of what is possible for them at a time when something like running a marathon may feel miles out of reach.
“If I can get other young patients to see my story, other victims of pediatric cancer, to see that I’ve been able to overcome cancer and that anything is possible, that’s all I want to accomplish.”
To support CJay’s fundraising efforts, click here.
To learn more about Mass General’s marathon team, click here.
John Hancock-Mass General Boston Marathon® Partnership
Mass General is proud to be an official Partner of John Hancock in the Marathon Non-Profit Program. The Non-Profit Program provides more than 1,000 Boston Marathon® bibs to select non-profit organizations throughout the community, giving an opportunity to all to raise significant funds to advance their missions.
For 26 years, John Hancock has been our steadfast partner in the Marathon Non-Profit Program and with their support, we have raised more than $22 million for Mass General. We are deeply humbled and profoundly grateful for their longstanding dedication to our mission. Their trust in us helped us reach this pivotal moment in medicine, a moment that allows us now to reimagine the future of health care for all people, both locally and around the globe. Learn more about our John Hancock-Mass General Boston Marathon partnership that continues to provide significant support for our three signature causes: Pediatric Cancer, Emergency Medicine and Home Base.