Heroic Niece Motivates Veteran Marathoner
“Aunt Pam, Wow!”
A selfie of her late niece is the only motivation Pamela DeCoste needs to run the Boston Marathon for Team Lahey.
“She was so beautiful,” Pam said, sighing as she looked at the cellphone picture of Brittany Nalley. “She’s actually getting chemo treatment, sitting here. This picture to me was so poignant because she took it herself. That look of determination on her face, it’s kind of like, ‘I’m gonna beat this thing.’”
But sadly, Brittany did not beat her disease, succumbing to metastatic breast cancer in May 2018 after a valiant six-year fight.
On a recent run around a marsh in Newbury, Pam laced up her running shoes to train for the marathon as part of Lahey’s inaugural team. Every dollar she raises and every step she takes will honor Brittany and all the women who will be diagnosed with cancer after her.
Pam describes her niece as “heroic.” After giving birth to her firstborn, a little boy named Holden, she and her husband tried for four years to have a second child. Shortly after Brittany found out she was pregnant, her doctor diagnosed her with breast cancer. The doctor advised her to abort the pregnancy and start chemotherapy because her cancer was so aggressive.
“She made the courageous decision to go on with the pregnancy because they had tried so hard,” Pam said. “That’s why I call it ‘heroic.’ Because I can’t even imagine walking in those shoes and having to make that choice myself. It was all about her family and love of family.”
While pregnant, Brittany found a doctor in Salt Lake City who specialized in chemotherapy treatments that are safe for pregnant women. She eventually gave birth to a little girl named Harlow and started treatment closer to home.
A reason to run
Pam is raising money for a new Comprehensive Breast Center to be built inside Lahey’s General Internal Medicine facility, adjacent to the hospital. With new, state-of-the-art breast exam technology in a new space, doctors will be able to perform more exams, giving them more chances to save the lives of women like Brittany.
“I have a personal experience with cancer, but it’s bigger than that,” Pam explained. “It’s having institutions that, I think, we as a community need to continue to support on an ongoing basis. We all need them at some point in time.”
Training for the marathon in the middle of an icy marsh is a far cry from Pam’s former life as a busy executive for Philips Healthcare. Then, she traveled the globe, working long hours but also running marathons to stay fit and indulge her passion for running. Amsterdam was her first marathon, and then she tackled Berlin, where things didn’t go quite as planned. “I had an accident in the middle of the marathon,” Pam recalled. “There was an obstruction in the road where several individuals fell at the same point and I ended up breaking my arm and had to stop. I actually tried to get back in the race, but it was not a good idea.”
Boston will be Pam’s redemption race. It’s also her way of giving back to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center and helping people in Brittany’s name.
What would Brittany think? “She’d say, ‘Aunt Pam, wow,’ and that she loved me,” Pam said. “And I love her back. I think she’d be pretty proud that we’re keeping her memory alive and doing good at the same time.”