By Karen Dempsey, TargetCancer Foundation Advocacy Council Member
As Lauren Sanford and her fiancé, DJ Webster, plan their upcoming wedding — and their life together — they have much to celebrate. They’re surrounded by the love of good friends and family, and memories of their childhoods in Saugus, Massachusetts, the town where both grew up.
But amid the celebrations, the couple is also feeling the absence of DJ’s father. Dave Webster died in 2011 of cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer of the bile ducts, just five months after he was diagnosed. He was 47 years old.
Dave’s close-knit family had already begun channeling their terrible grief into becoming a force for good when Lauren and DJ began dating less than a year after his death. DJ, his mother, Joann, his two sisters and his uncle, Chris, had become active in fundraising and advocacy circles, particularly with TargetCancer Foundation, whose founder, Paul Poth, had also died of cholangiocarcinoma.
Lauren was moved by the family’s commitment to making change in Dave’s memory, and she embraced their activism as her relationship with DJ deepened. When they ultimately became engaged, her joy was marred by the reality that she would never meet the man who would have been her father-in-law.
“I wanted some kind of memory of Dave, a way to honor him. When I saw that TargetCancer Foundation had a team running in the Boston Marathon, I thought, this is my shot — my chance to do something. Every time I run I’ll think of Dave.”
She applied for the TargetCancer Foundation marathon team, driven not by any experience in running, but by the certainty and determination that this is a race she was simply meant to run.
Along with a rigorous training schedule, the first-time marathoner has committed to raising $10,000 for TargetCancer Foundation, in support of research into cholangiocarcinoma and other rare cancers.
“DJ is excited for me. He’s been very supportive and said he’d help with fundraising and even go on shorter training runs with me. My sister Jaki couldn’t believe it. Her immediate reaction was, ‘You are insane,'” Lauren laughs. “But she’s really proud, and she has already taken Marathon Monday off from work.”
Lauren is an athlete, but not a runner—until now. She began her training in December, alternating runs between city pavement and tree-lined paths. She particularly loves running in the woods at Breakheart State Reservation, but admits that the city runs keep her motivated. “You don’t want people to see you slowing down,” she jokes.
Her tone turns serious when she talks about the cause she’s training to support.
“I’ve never had this much responsibility in helping make a difference or raising this much money personally,” she says. “I already have over $4,000 in donations, which is unreal. I’ve cried over people being so generous. To see people I know who work so hard to save money, who have their own lives to worry about, and they were the first to donate. I can’t even put into words what that is like.”