Crista Llanes already knew about the type of care that patients receive at Massachusetts General Hospital long before she worked there.
In 2008, her brother-in-law, Joe Llanes, was diagnosed with meduloblastoma, a fast-growing, high-grade tumor that sets in the cerebellum of the brain. Joe was 14, and his family was crushed.
But after alternately coping with setbacks and finding hope in small gains during two years of treatment by the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology unit at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC), Joe fully recovered and lives a life he dreamed of as a kid.
Now a nurse at Mass General’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), Crista wants to recognize the hospital’s role in letting Joe chase his dream, so she’s running the Boston Marathon as a member of the hospital’s Pediatric Cancer Marathon Team.
The Strength of Children
“Seeing children in the hospital, it’s incredible the strength they have,” Crista says. “It’s incredible to see their journeys to get better, and that’s what I saw with Joe.”
Crista, 28, and her husband, Chris Llanes, started dating when they were teenagers. She got to know Chris’ three brothers as they grew up together in West Bridgewater, Mass., and was there to see Joe struggle with meduloblastoma.
“The family is not emotional. They handle difficult stuff by joking around,” Crista says. “And Joe is a very big jokester. As he got sick, the more he joked around about it. He kept it light, but he was really sick.”
Joe had brain surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital and then started a two-year cycle of treatment at MGHfC. He underwent chemotherapy and then radiation treatments five days a week for a span of several weeks, before taking a break and again resuming the cycle.
He also occasionally caught an infection and had to be admitted for 24-hour care.
Despite his humor, Joe was often dogged by nausea and vomited for long stretches. He struggled to gain weight. “He was very resilient,” Crista recalls. “It was tough because he was a teenager.”
A Teenager’s Inspirational Battle
Crista started nursing school around the time Joe’s brain tumor was detected. His battle was an inspiration as she prepared for a medical career. She also admired the dedication and love exhibited by her future mother-in-law, Debora Llanes, who took off work to be at Joe’s side.
Not long after Joe recovered fully in 2010, Debora was diagnosed with breast cancer. Impressed by Joe’s experience with the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit, Debora chose to receive treatment at the Mass General Cancer Center. Her cancer is now in remission, and Debora continues to teach third grade for West Bridgewater Public Schools.
Once healthy, Joe returned to West Bridgewater Middle-Senior High School. Even when sick, he continued to study at home, which enabled him to graduate on time. He then studied at Wentworth Institute of Technology, earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2016.
Joe, now 22, works as an engineer for Double E Company, a manufacturing business in his hometown. He never forgot how, when he received treatment at Mass General, he was a member of the Marathon Patient-Partner Program. He was paired with Adam Muzerall, an adult who ran the 2009 Boston Marathon for the Pediatric Cancer Marathon Team. “Joe really enjoyed that,” Crista recalls.
First Boston Marathon
Dash ahead eight years and Crista is now running for the same team, partnering with a boy who is currently receiving care from the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit at MGHfC.
“Joe’s case is such a happy story, but unfortunately they aren’t all happy stories,” Crista says. “If I can give a little bit and get financial support from family and friends, and if we can all make a difference, hopefully there will be more happy stories.”
Crista has run the Chicago Marathon twice but this will be her first Boston Marathon effort. She’s bracing herself for Heartbreak Hill and other challenges but says they are worth fighting through.
“I’m running in honor of him,” she says of Joe. “He shows that with all the new cancer treatments and research, and all the charities that can help, you can move forward from this disease.”
Please consider supporting Crista and other Boston Marathon runners raising money for Mass General.
John Hancock and Mass General Celebrate 20 Years of Marathon Partnership
This year marks the 20th anniversary of John Hancock’s partnership with the Mass General Marathon Program. John Hancock provides Mass General runners with bib numbers for the race.
Since it was formed in 1998, Mass General’s Pediatric Oncology Team has raised more than $12 million to support research and child life activities for children with cancer. In 2014, John Hancock worked with the Boston Athletic Association to award the hospital additional bib numbers to create the Emergency Response Team. That effort acknowledged the lifesaving response of hospital personnel following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Since then, that team has raised more than $1 million for the hospital’s emergency preparedness and disaster training.
In addition to these teams, runners who obtained their own bib numbers for the Boston Marathon will run for the Miles for Mass General program, which raises funds for hospital programs that are close to their hearts. Programs being represented by 2017 runners include Botswana Oncology Global Outreach, Caring for a Cure, Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome and the Lurie Center for Autism.
To learn more about the Mass General Boston Marathon Program, please visit our website.