Kicking Up Their Heels at the Lahey Cancer 5K

Phyl’s Fillies & Fellas Raise $22,000 for Cancer Care

When Phyllis Clark was diagnosed with breast cancer in fall 2016, she did two things. First, she had a good cry. Then, she planned a pre-chemo kickoff party — hats and wigs optional. Those who know Phyllis best say her positive outlook and can-do attitude are inspiring.

“Phyllis is an amazing person and friend,” said Mary Leach, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Lahey and Phyllis’s longtime friend. They met more than 20 years ago when they worked together at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, where Phyllis is still the executive assistant to the president and CEO. Mary knew Phyllis was undergoing treatments at Winchester Hospital and she wanted to do something special to support her dear friend. Something big.

“Let’s do it!”

“I saw a little girl at Winchester Hospital selling pink bracelets to raise money for the cancer center,” Mary recalled. “All of a sudden, something clicked in my head. If a little girl could collect a jar of money for the cancer center, why couldn’t I do something?” Mary decided to form a team in Phyllis’s honor to raise funds for the Lahey  Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run, held June 24, 2017 at Burlington High School. “I got up the nerve to ask Phyllis, and she said ‘Let’s do it!’”

In late April, Mary corralled a team called Phyl’s Fillies with a handful of Phyllis’s closest female friends. Phyllis — in the home stretch with radiation treatments and just beginning to grow her hair back — agreed to suit up and jog alongside her friends. With barely two months to raise funds and pull the team together, Mary spread the word via email and social media. Soon, Phyllis’s extended network of colleagues, family and friends rallied around her and her cause.

“It was Phyllis’s story that got everyone on board,” Mary said. The team changed its name to welcome men into the group. Their webpage declared, “We are Phyl’s Fillies & Fellas Walking for Winchester, a group of women (and men!) who love our Phyllis and want to help her beat cancer by going the extra mile.” By the day of the 5K, they had raised more than $21,750, which will help fund programs at Winchester Hospital’s Cancer Center.

For Phyllis, the 5K was personal — and a way for her to help other cancer patients.

“I could have gone to Boston, but I chose to stay close to home in the suburbs and get treated at Winchester Hospital,” said the Saugus resident. Kelley Cornell, MD, of the Winchester Hospital Breast Care Center, guided Phyllis through her journey of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, followed by hormone therapy. Because she knew the power of women supporting each other, Phyllis joined the hospital’s breast cancer support group. She also took advantage of supportive therapies such as massage, acupuncture and yoga provided through Winchester Hospital’s Center for Healthy Living. “It’s been a long slog, but these things helped me get off the couch and work throughout my treatments,” Phyllis said. “I hope other cancer patients can take advantage of these alternative therapies.”

Proceeds benefit patients directly

Thanks to Phyl’s Fillies & Fellas, they can. Proceeds from the 2017 Cancer Walk will directly benefit patients like Phyllis by providing gift cards for everyday needs and helping defray the cost of supportive therapies through the Richard C. Heidbreder, MD, Patient Comfort Fund.

With her cancer treatments and the 5K under her belt, Phyllis is looking ahead to recovery — and the next fundraising event. “Knowing Mary, she’ll be pulling together another team as soon as this event is over,” she said. Phyllis is touched that her story would inspire so many people to lace up and raise funds for Lahey Cancer Institute patients and programs (including an anonymous donor who made a gift of $10,000).

“I’m so touched and grateful, it really makes me tear up,” Phyllis said. “When Mary put the word out, people I hadn’t heard from in years came out of the woodwork, either to join the team or contribute financial or emotional support. Going forward, I hope this can become an annual team event for us.”