Move for MDS 5K raises awareness for rare blood cancer

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Photo: Chloe Els

Race participants begin their first lap around the Boston Common.

By Chloe Els, Staff Writer

Dozens of runners and walkers circled the Boston Common for the annual Move for MDS 5K, hosted by MDS Foundation Inc. on Sunday.

MDS, or Myelodysplastic syndrome, is a rare blood cancer that is often a precursor to Leukemia. Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with MDS every year. The life expectancy of an MDS patient depends on the treatment and the severity of the cancer, but it can range from months to a decade.

The first Move for MDS 5K was held in Boston during 2018, according to Madelyn Geltch, the community outreach manager at MDS Foundation Inc.

Geltch said this 5K is the biggest of many events that raise awareness for MDS throughout the year. Nicknamed the “Boston Global,” the race is live streamed all over the world.

Before the race began, three members of the MDS community were honored via awards ceremony for their positive impact. Lu Demerle and Krista Tucker were both presented with Compassionate Care awards for their work as caretakers of MDS patients. Demerle spent the past year caring for her husband Tom, an MDS patient, and Tucker is a nurse at Tufts Medical Center who frequently treats MDS patients.

“It takes a team to beat MDS,” Demerle said. “Without our team, Tom would not be at this point in his recovery. This award belongs to them more than me.”

An MDS survivor named Michael Mahoney was also honored, receiving the Courage Award. Mahoney was diagnosed with MDS in 2009 and given a life expectancy of approximately six years. He shared that reaching the age of 64 was a major milestone for him as he beat his survival odds by nearly double what was expected. 

“When you’re diagnosed, you feel shock, fear, even anger,” Mahoney said. “You feel like your heart is broken.” 

He described countless visits to the doctors office, blood draws, and constant fatigue. He described how hard his life became and how relieved he was when things finally started to improve. 

“It’s a little miracle when you feel how you used to feel before you had MDS,” he said.

After fighting cancer for 13 years, Mahoney shared his pride in finally reaching remission and emphasized the importance of helping others in the MDS community.

“We’re all God’s hands and feet here to help each other,” Mahoney said. “We feel courage because of the people who encourage us.”

Following the awards ceremony, the attendees lined up in front of an inflatable teal arch and prepared for a 3.1 mile trek. The 5K kicked off at the pop of confetti cannons and applause from the Northeastern University cheerleaders who attended the event to show their support.

To complete the 5K, participants lapped the Common three times. Many ran or walked in groups, chatting and smiling at each other.

Maritza Sanchez walked the 5K with her mother, who she pushed in a wheelchair. Sanchez said her father was recently diagnosed with MDS, and she hopes that by participating in the 5K, she can raise awareness of the disease. 

While Sanchez showed her support for the MDS community by walking the 5K, Jessica Pacheco, a resident of Connecticut, did so in a different way. Pacheco works for an organization called Be The Match, and spent her time at the Move for MDS event behind a booth, handing out informational flyers.

Be The Match is a registry designed to help people with blood cancer connect with blood and bone marrow donors. With around 39 million members, it is the most diverse registry of its kind in the world.

Pacheco said anyone between the ages of 18 and 40 can join the registry and can remain on it until their 61st birthday. Be The Match frequently hosts events on college campuses to find donors in this age range, and has worked to make the process of joining the registry simple and accessible.

Anyone interested can submit their information online and mail in a swab kit, which helps Be The Match connect donors and blood cancer patients.

Blood and bone marrow donations can save lives, but they are not the only types of donations that matter when it comes to helping MDS patients. While MDS is treatable, researchers are still looking for a cure. Visit this link to help raise funds for the MDS Foundation and support bringing an end to MDS.