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Eileen Vazquez

Step by step, Jimmy Fund Walker reaches personal milestone

Photo of Eileen Vazques

Eileen Vazquez's participation in the Jimmy Fund Walk is a personal health milestone.

It's common for people to mark a special occasion with a celebration. Exchanging cards or presents, sharing a meal, or participating in a ceremony are all considered traditional. However, the more unique an event is in a person's life, the way in which an individual chooses to commemorate it is often more distinctive.

For 19-year-old college student Eileen Vazquez, the 18th annual Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk that took place on Sept. 17, was her personal milestone: It meant that she was healthy enough to participate. Vazquez, a sophomore at Emmanuel College, was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a lemon the day before her 16th birthday in 2002 and operated on the day after – the doctors wanted her to celebrate in case she didn't make it through the surgery. Since then, the tumor has come back twice. Vazquez finished chemotherapy earlier this year.

"I've been wanting to do the Walk for a long time," says Vazquez. "I was a Patient Partner (the program that connects marathoners with the children for whom they run and raise money) in 2004 and had someone run for me as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge. I loved the experience and wanted to run too, but my doctors urged me to wait until I was healthier and to start with something a little easier." Vazquez says she was excited to participate in the Walk and hopes the funds raised make cancer "cured and over with."

"I never want to see another child with cancer, especially those younger than me," she says.

Vasquez, her mom, Essi, dad, Eloy, and their friends participated in the Wellesley 13-mile walk route on Sunday. They joined 7,000 other walkers, many of whom treaded the historic Hopkinton 26.2-mile course, while others walked the 3-mile patient/family route that started at the Harvard Medical School Quad. No matter where they started from, all walkers participated to raise funds for cancer cures. This year's goal is $5 million.

Vazquez's cancer experience did more than give her the motivation to take part in the Walk; it has also shaped her career aspirations.

She credits the wonderful care she has received from her health care providers for sparking her interest in the health care field, but it is her psychologists Samantha Barry, PhD, and Cori Cieurzo, PhD, of the Division of Pediatric Psychosocial Services, who have inspired her the most.

"My social workers helped me through the worst time in my life and continue to help me through everything," says Vazquez. "So I've decided I'd like to one day help children going through the same experiences that I had. Now I'm studying to be a sociologist and hope one day to work at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. I want those kids to know they aren't alone in the world – it's another way for me to give back."

"Eileen has approached her cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery with grace, courage and a determination that is unmatched," says Cieurzo. "Her persistence and caring spirit have been an inspiration to all of us who have had the pleasure to work with her."

She continues, "Her interest in giving back to other children is not surprising, but I don't think she knows how much she has already given back through the example she has set for others about how to surmount obstacles. Eileen is a special young lady with a very bright future."

By Dawn Stapleton
Photo: Courtesy of Eileen Vazquez