Quincy Boston Marathoner gives something back

John R. Johnson

For much of his life, Mark Porter had never seriously considered running a marathon. Sure, he thought running 26.2 miles looked like a lot of fun every time Patriots’ Day rolled around, but then the thought would fade as quickly as the warm weather arrived.

That all changed when Porter was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March of 2005. Recuperating in a hospital bed after surgery to remove 12 inches of his colon, Porter got to thinking about raising money for the very same cancer research that may have very well saved his life.

It was then that Porter’s love affair with the Boston Marathon began. The native of Ireland ran his first Boston Marathon in 2006, only 13 months after his initial diagnosis, raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in the process. On Monday, Porter will line up in Hopkinton for his third Boston marathon. Having raised $60,000 for Dana Farber in his first two marathons, he hopes to raise another $25,000 this year.

“Laying in the hospital bed, I realized the care I was getting was due to someone else’s efforts,” said Porter, a construction worker who has lived in Quincy for most of the 20 years since he arrived in the U.S. “I hoped I would get better, and then be able to do the same for someone else. I may never meet them, but everybody is touched by cancer in some shape or form.”

That includes the family of a 2-year-old boy from western Massachusetts, whom Porter is running in honor of this year. The boy has also received treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is currently in remission.

Porter ran his first Boston in 4 hours, 48 minutes, and crossed the Copley Square finish line in just over five hours last year. He said he’d love to finish in less than five hours this time, although simply completing the race is the main goal. During his first marathon, he wondered what all the hype was about.

“So many people had told me it is such a fantastic experience,” said Porter, who has been logging about 30 to 35 miles a week while training with the Quincy YMCA. “Yet every part of me was sore, so I was asking myself how can this be fun? But from the time I left Hopkinton to Copley Square it’s like you are floating. It doesn’t matter if you are the first guy across the finish line or if it takes you four hours – the crowd treats everybody like a winner. That’s when I knew it wasn’t going to be my first and last marathon.”

Of course, Porter needed a little help along the way, in the form of several months of chemotherapy treatments. He is on his way to obtaining a clean bill of health, with his last CAT scan exam scheduled for this fall. Then, he’ll just need yearly exams to make sure the cancer remains in remission. He opted for chemotherapy after doctors informed him that the chances of the cancer returning were less than 1 percent with the treatment, versus 5 percent or less if he skipped the treatments.

Ever thankful for the care he received while sick, Porter will set out for his third marathon on Monday, with the hope of giving back to the cancer research community for a long time to come. There is a direct parallel, he said, between the fans that line the race route, and the thousands of faceless contributors to the cancer cause.

“When you turn onto Boylston Street, it’s just phenomenal when you see that finish line in front of you,” said Porter. “It’s very emotional because you see so many people, and you don’t know them, but they all want you to succeed.”

Very similar to what he experienced in his battle against cancer.

The Patriot Ledger