For This Runner, Lahey Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run Has Special Meaning

When Sara O’Brien first started running in the Lahey Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run, she had no idea that one day she’d be running as a cancer survivor. O’Brien, an inpatient dietitian at Lahey, was a competitive runner who became involved in the event to support the work of the hospital. In June 2012, Sara was the first female finisher of the Lahey 5K, in 20 minutes, 32 seconds. Three months later, at the age of 30, Sarah was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma.

She underwent intensive treatment for seven months, and has been taking the hormone tamoxifen since 2013. Now that she runs as a cancer survivor, the race has taken on a new meaning for her. “A lot of people who supported me through treatment come, and the day is now a big celebratory event for me and my co-survivors,” she said. She and her team raise money for the event with a bake sale, which has grown every year. “We used to be happy raising $300 to $400, but after my treatment and diagnosis, it expanded. Now we’re disappointed if we don’t raise at least $1,000.”

Her team is now called Team NED, after the term “no evidence of disease” – an important milestone that she celebrates at the 5K every year with her mother Chris and other friends, family and colleagues. Last year, O’Brien ran the 5K in 24 minutes, 40 seconds. “I knew I was doing OK when I passed my oncologist—that was a pretty great feeling,” she said.

This year, O’Brien and Team NED will once again be participating in the event on June 24 at Burlington High School.

Every year for the past 11 years more than 1,500 people join the Lahey 5K, raising over $1.8 million dollars to develop and enhance cancer services for Lahey health. The funds benefit the thousands of patients who are treated for cancer at a Lahey Health Hospital at all of the Lahey Health cancer centers, which are located at Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals; Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Burlington; Lahey Medical Center, Peabody; and Winchester Hospital.

Most recently, the funds were used to purchase a tablet-based tool for all the hospitals that patients can use to assess their lifetime breast cancer risk. Funds have also been used to provide cancer support groups, purchase blanket warmers and create a healing garden outside the cancer center at Lahey Medical Center, Peabody. It has also supported Lahey’s pioneering screening program to detect early stage lung cancer and to hire a research nurse for Lahey’s clinical research program.

Thanks to the generosity of last year’s participants and an increase in sponsors, donors, and participants, the 2016 Cancer Walk & Run raised $298,000. This year, the goal is even more ambitious: $350,000. O’Brien said, “I’ll be competing, but I’ll also be celebrating all the survivors and Lahey cancer centers and all the good work they do.”

To donate to Sara’s team or the event, or to join Sara in the 5K, click here.