On Tuesday, July 20, Carlin Carr stepped out of her Cambridge apartment with two of her best friends for a momentous 2.5-mile walk to Massachusetts General Hospital. They took the same route Carlin had ventured on nearly every weekday for the past six weeks with friends, colleagues and family members alongside her, showing their support as she walked to each one of her radiation appointments. What made this day so special: it marked the final day of Carlin’s radiation treatment.
“I really feel like running helped me through the pandemic — it was a way to get outside and feel energized and strong. So, I continued running — with my doctors’ support — throughout all of chemo.”
From Running to Radiation
In 2020, Carlin took up running to keep herself both physically and mentally active during the COVID-19 pandemic. She completed her first double digit run — 10 miles — on Dec. 31. Six days later, after a routine checkup with her doctor, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After an initial surgery, she began three months of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation.
“When I was diagnosed, I was terrified, the beginning stages are so hard, and cancer is like its own isolating process in a lot of ways,” Carlin says. “Then begins the treatment. I had no idea what to expect. I just tried to maintain my routine as much as possible. I really feel like running helped me through the pandemic — it was a way to get outside and feel energized and strong. So, I continued running — with my doctors’ support — throughout all of chemo.”
Walk With Me
At the end of Carr’s chemotherapy, she shared her diagnosis and latest update on her Facebook page, and sought out help with her next hurdle: six weeks of daily radiation treatments. She was warned the fatigue could be incredibly difficult, but she knew she wanted to keep as active as possible, ideally going to appointments on foot.
“I called it ‘Walk With Me,’ and thought I’d get a few nearby friends to join me on some of my walks to radiation,” she says. “I was wrong. Within a few days the whole spreadsheet of appointments was nearly filled up with people from all different parts of my life. It was wild.”
For her first appointment, Carlin was accompanied by her best friend, Abby — the same friend who would join her on the final walk. “Six weeks felt like forever when starting out. I just told myself it was like a marathon. Take it one part at a time.”
If Carlin can do it …
During her cancer journey, Carlin was joined by her first boss, former and current colleagues, close friends, old friends, far-away friends, family members and some people Carr knew only a little bit. For her final walk, she also was joined by her radiation oncologist, Alice Ho, MD, as well as from friends across the world — Sweden, Ireland, France and Italy — who sent video messages to Carlin to virtually join in her final walk.
“That’s what I loved about this adventure, people were up for it no matter what,” says Carlin. “No matter the heat, the rain, or whatever the weather threw at us, it’s like people thought, ‘If Carlin can do it, I can do it.’ It was a wonderful way to connect and reconnect in pandemic times, and a way to get through the grueling cancer treatments.”
“People were showing up for me and that kept me motivated.”
Joy Despite the Circumstances
Today, Carlin is thrilled to be done with her cancer treatments — and is grateful to her team of Mass General Cancer Center doctors including Dr. Ho, Steven Isakoff, MD, PhD, and Michele Gadd, MD — though she misses her walks and the daily camaraderie that helped get her through such difficult weeks.
“Just thinking about how I can say it now, ‘I ran through chemo,’ or walked to all these sessions, it makes it sound easier than it was. The treatments wreak a lot of havoc on the body — chemotherapy totally knocked me down after each infusion and I had many days where I cried in the middle of the week during radiation because I was so exhausted and wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to do it,” says Carlin. “But people were showing up for me and that kept me motivated. There can be joy despite the circumstances. And that was just it, I honestly felt that this focus, this engagement, the connection, being outdoors, all helped me through it, and made what was a really crummy situation into something memorable.”
This story first appeared in Hotline, a Mass General community newsletter featuring employees and initiatives that focus on bettering the future of clinical care, research and training.