Each April, Berta Sinclair returns to the route between Hopkinton and Boston to reflect on the anniversary when she ran the Boston Marathon in honor and in memory of a very special boy, Matty Dubuc.
In 2007, Matty had finished his own three-year, grueling marathon battling liver cancer. Seven year old Matty endured months of chemotherapy, radiation, a liver transplant, several lung surgeries, two brain surgeries and an arm amputation. Three weeks before Berta’s marathon in honor of Matty, he passed away, never crossing the finish line to a healthy and long life.
“Matty set records at Dana Farber and Boston Children’s Hospital for being able to bounce back. A day after a surgery and he would be running around in the playroom,” recalls Berta who first met Matty and his parents Sandy and Johnny and brothers Christopher and Zachary three summers earlier when she was volunteering at New Hampshire’s YMCA Camp Coniston, the host of Camp Winning Spirit a program sponsored by Childhood Cancer Lifeline of New Hampshire.
“I first started volunteering at Camp Winning Spirit when I was seventeen and a camp counselor at Coniston,” explains Berta, who pursued a career in residential camping after graduating from the University of New Hampshire and today is the assistant director of Chimney Corners Camp YMCA for Girls in Becket, Massachusetts.
“At the time, Camp Winning Spirit had a lot of kids who had finished cancer treatment or were wrapping up treatment. Their hadn’t been any really sick kids at camp in awhile and in 2004 Matty was one of the first really sick kids,” says Berta who remembers Matty in a stroller with incubation tubes in and out of his body.
“Camp is supposed to be joyous, fun and active and seeing Matty so sick at this camp that I loved since I was a kid really changed me. Matty just got into my heart.”
Berta didn’t have much contact with Matty until 2005’s Camp Winning Spirit when Matty was missing after lunch. Berta helped in the search and found Matty playing dress up with a friend. When Berta returned Matty, his worried mom Sandy said with a laugh, “Didn’t you know it was your turn to watch him?”
“Sandy and I just clicked in that moment,” says Berta and so began the start of her friendship with Matty and the Dubucs.
At the time Berta was living in Boston, working for the Metro West YMCA and she began to visit with Matty during his treatments at Dana Farber and Children’s Hospital.
“During treatment when Matty was sick it was really hard. His body was being put through so much and it broke your heart to see him in a hospital bed. But then there were those great moments when he was feeling good and you’d see his crazy spirit and magical smile.”
When another camper at Camp Winning Spirit passed away and Matty was in the midst of his continued battle, Berta decided that visiting Matty wasn’t enough. She wanted to get involved.
“I asked Sandy and Johnny if I ran the Boston Marathon for Dana Farber could Matty be my Patient Partner.”
The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge (DFMC) Patient Partner Program matches pediatric patients with marathon runners who run in their honor while raising money for cancer research.
Weeks before the marathon, Matty passed away.
“Dana Farber hosts a pasta party the night before the marathon for runners and patient families being honored and despite just losing their boy, Sandy and Johnny came to the dinner and the marathon the next day to support me.”
Berta was touched by Sandy and Johnny, “I ran the next day and Sandy joined me at mile 25 and ran the last 1.2 miles to cross the finish line with me.”
Berta raised over $7,000 that year in memory of Matty.
Inspired, Sandy and Johnny decided to run in 2008 in memory of their son and Berta joined them. “Running for Matty with Sandy and Johnny in 2008 was and is the greatest honor of my life.”
The Boston Marathon has become a touch point for Berta and the Dubuc Family as a way to keep Matty’s spirit alive and the family’s commitment to support the places that supported Matty.
The Dubucs host blood drives every eight weeks for Children’s Hospital, they volunteer at all of DFMC team runs throughout the training season and cheer on Boston Marathon runners annually.
“The Dubuc Family’s mantra is ‘don’t stop believing in a world without cancer.’ Every Dana Farber marathon runner knows who Sandy Dubuc is. Sandy lost her son to cancer but she won’t stop fighting for other families,” says Berta about her dedicated friend Sandy who gives an annual speech at the Dana Farber team run that takes place around Matty’s anniversary. Sandy is also an advocate for patient siblings.
“Sandy understands that cancer treatment and the loss of a child is a family journey and affects all family members.”
Berta also continues to volunteer each year, along with the Dubuc’s for the support she received as a marathon runner.
“DFMC organizes team long runs on the weekends throughout the winter for team members training for the marathon. Water stops are along the route and manned by volunteers so I have made a point to get back to Boston to volunteer for a few runs with Sandy every year to give back,” says Berta, who admits she is not a long distance runner, but the water stops were vital to her during her two years of training.
Berta is thankful for her friendship with the Dubucs and for the chance to know and love Matty. After working 24/7 at Chimney Corners Camp all summer, Berta looks forward to returning to Camp Winning Spirit every Labor Day Weekend to continue working with other children and their families in the midst of their own life fighting marathons.
“It’s my favorite weekend of the year.”
Two friends of the Dubucs are running in the 2015 Boston Marathon in memory of Matty, Steve Poirer and Kerry Donohue. Make a gift here www.rundfmc.org and type on Steve or Kerry’s name to make a gift in memory of Matty. 100% of contributions are directed to the Barr Program at Dana Farber which funds innovative cancer research.
To learn more about Matty and his family: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/matty