Heather's 2005 marathon letter

Dear family and friends,

On Monday, April 18th, I’ll be lining up with fellow members of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team for my eighth Boston Marathon in memory of Brittany Lambert and in honor of Amber DaRosa. Now, more than ever, I ask for your support as I add one more name to that list: Mark Schlowsky-Fischer.

This year’s letter really began several years ago when I was involved in my local alumni club and met Mark’s wife, Karen. Karen and I both went to Wellesley, but, separated by three years, did not get to know each other until well after graduation when she and Mark moved back to the Boston area and Karen joined the club. Those who knew Karen and Mark could speak volumes of their wonderful, intimate relationship that knew no bounds --- I don’t think I’ve ever known another couple who were so clearly in love with each other.

Karen and Mark opened up their home many times to host club events. To say that Mark was good-natured about dozens of women invading his home on a weekend afternoon would be an understatement. He was the consummate behind-the-scenes presence, making sure that plates were always full and drinks always fresh. I remember one such event which I attended out of sheer obligation as club president, bleary-eyed and generally cranky from a late-night party the prior evening. I saw Mark beckoning from kitchen with a twinkle in his eye. I snuck away and spent the next few hours with him, agreeably sipping beer and chatting about football—luckily I was not missed!

They left Boston three years ago to return to New Jersey to be closer to their families, particularly as Karen's mother underwent breast cancer treatment. In the fall of 2003, Karen’s mother successfully finished treatment, and Mark and Karen had just completed significant renovations to their new home when Mark found a lump near his armpit. A series of consultations and biopsies confirmed their fears: Mark had Burkett’s lymphoma, a cancer with a low survival rate.

Over the next eleven months, Karen and Mark did everything in their power to fight the cancer. Karen set-up an email list to provide family and friends with frequent updates regarding his condition and educating all of us about the disease and its treatment. They feverishly read every study known, following up leads with researchers in Houston, San Francisco and Seattle. At first, it seemed like Mark was responding to treatments. I met them at Sloan-Kettering hospital in New York City last March while traveling on business, and aside from no hair and occasional forgetful “chemo brain” as he liked to joke, Mark seemed like his old self. In April, just hours after completing the marathon, I received a call from Karen asking if they could stay at our apartment while meeting with doctors at Dana-Farber. The four of us enjoyed what seemed like old times at a local Mexican restaurant, relaxing over margueritas and teasing Mark about his designated driver status.

However, by summer, the hope that Mark could reach remission long enough for a stem cell transplant began to fade. The toxic treatments were taking a toll on his body, and the cancer began to spread. When I spoke with him in September, he seemed confused and despondent. Mark died at home with his arms around Karen on October 17th at the age of 29.

Mark’s death hit so close to home. Karen and Mark were a young, vibrant couple with their entire life ahead of them—not unlike myself and Tom. Following Mark’s death, Karen emailed: “But I will say that Mark always, and I mean always, put his life OUTSIDE of work first….I can't tell you how many times he told bosses that he didn't care if they wanted him to stay another couple hours again this week, he was going home to his wife….I think of the grad school work I didn't do, the nights the kitchen stayed a mess, the clothes that got wrinkled in the dryer because we were too busy hanging out on the couch watching TV or lingering over dinner by candlelight and I desperately wish for more times like that. You can't get them back if you give them up.” His death has been an important lesson in how to live: life, like love, is fleeting— live every moment.

I do have happier updates to share. Amber finished chemo treatment in August, and the final bone marrow test in September was clear. She is now a healthy, giggling six year-old girl with a new baby sister, Tori Hope, to look after. Likewise, Brittany’s family is doing well, and the annual memorial road race continues to provide financial assistance to struggling families in Massachusetts with children with critical illnesses.

Over the past seven years you have helped me to raise more than $56,000 for cancer research at Dana-Farber, and I want to thank you for your never-ending support, whether financial or emotional. I hope that you will consider contributing this year and help me reach that finish line that will end cancer for good. 100% of your tax-deductible donation funds Barr Program researchers at Dana-Farber, ensuring novel approaches in basic cancer research. While a cure was not found in time for Brittany and Mark, Amber is living proof that the researchers that we are supporting today are closer than ever to finding a cure for cancer. Thank you for your support and encouragement!


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Last updated on March 29, 2008 .
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