Running to Breakthrough Cancer for…Gerry O.

I am training for the ING 2013 NYC Marathon to help raise money for Breakthrough Cancer Research.  

Dr. Gerald O’Sullivan was many things in life.

The Irish Medical Times called him “the outstanding Irish surgeon of his generation” and “an Irish Giant.”  His medical peers in Ireland elected him President of the Royal College of Surgeons in 2006.  He lived and worked in Chicago, Canada, and even Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war.  He served as mentor of the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa.  He was an Honorary Fellow in the American College of Surgeons, a prestigious award since it is limited to only 100 living surgeons worldwide at any time.  He was loved by those he worked with, as evidenced in a touching YouTube video created after he died.  But perhaps most notably, Gerry founded Cork Cancer Research Centre in the 1990s, a world-class research organization driven to improve treatment and prognoses for the most devastating cancers.

He was a premier medical doctor in Ireland and beyond, but to me, my parents, my brothers and sister, and my cousins here in America, he was just Gerry.  Gerry, my mother’s first cousin, a man who took time out of his hectic schedule to visit us in New Jersey while on work travel to the U.S., his booming voice and lilting brogue filling our entry foyer when he arrived.  Gerry, the crazy-smart cousin who loved American history so much that he could recite every president and vice president going back to George Washington.  Gerry, whose sense of humor tickled you to your core, like when he surprise-crashed a family party in suburban Pennsylvania (where his daughter was living) disguised as a hobo…ambling down the quiet, meticulously manicured street wearing a mask, an old trench coat, a ratty old hat, and carrying a stick with a bag tied around one end of it…he had the entire party in stitches.  Gerry, who could talk and talk and talk over multiple pots of tea about topics as wide-ranging as cricket and hurling to current affairs, especially U.S. politics.

Gerry died on February 12, 2012.  He succumbed to multiple myeloma, a cancer that starts in the plasma cells in bone marrow.  It was a huge loss, both personally for our family but also for the community of medical professionals dedicated to eradicating cancer.  Fortunately, his legacy lives on through his family and Breakthrough Cancer Research, the new fundraising arm of Cork Cancer Research Centre.  Breakthrough Cancer Research collaborates with cancer organizations worldwide, from Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovenia, Scotland, as well as here in the U.S., including Harvard Medical School.

Cancer is horrific, cancer is cruel, and cancer is seemingly ubiquitous.  But cancer can be beaten.   As it says on Breakthrough Cancer Research’s websiteThere is hope, and that hope is in research.

You can donate easily and quickly by visiting my marathon fundraising site on  Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell your details or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to Breakthrough Cancer Research. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

Thank you.

The Jeans Whore

As I dig deep to train for the 2013 NYC Marathon, I am reminded of a time when I was known as “the jeans whore.”

I was in high school and had a part-time sales job at Banana Republic, one of many stores at an upscale mall in Short Hills, New Jersey.  My job included greeting customers with a smile at the front door and explaining the difference between a weave and a knit.   I walked into the back stockroom one afternoon to find my manager sorting through boxes of fall merchandise, the pungent scents of packed leather and denim still fresh. My manager smiled as she held out one of the new fall items, a beautiful lambskin bomber jacket priced at $300.  It was gorgeous, yet out of my price range.  But then she explained an upcoming back-to-school sales contest whereby a salesperson would receive three dollars for every pair of denim jeans sold.  “You can do it,” she said. “Buy the jacket with contest money!”

I had my challenges.  In hindsight, I was not the ideal retail sales associate.  First, I felt awkward approaching customers who appeared to be browsing, and instead waited for them to ask me for help.  I preferred to work the cash register, finding comfort behind the repetitive motions of clicking the register pad, bagging the merchandise, and making small talk with someone who was experiencing the high of a new purchase.  But most of all, I was a high school student who worked minimal hours so I had a serious time constraint in which to sell a boatload of denim jeans.

When the contest began about a week later, I jumped in head first.  I offered to take weekend shifts from co-workers, increasing my time with the piles of denim stacked floor to ceiling in the back of the store.  I threw my feelings of awkwardness to the wind and started to approach every customer who showed the slightest whiff of interest in denim. If a customer was buying a blouse, I suggested she complete the outfit and purchase a pair of jeans as well.  If a customer wanted a belt, I offered him the right shade of washed denim to match the brown leather and silver buckle.  If a customer walked by that wall of denim, I was in her face, smiling, giving her my name, telling her I was there to help. I owned that wall of denim.  Before long, my co-workers, all older than me by several years and viewing me like a kid sister, jokingly started calling me “the jeans whore.”

The contest lasted ten days and by the end, I had sold sixty-seven pairs of jeans, making me the contest winner in the entire Northeast region and the third highest seller of denim in the entire company.  I also received a bonus for my performance.  Several weeks later, the jacket hung in my closet, entirely paid for with contest money.

I learned something valuable with all those jeans I sold: with a clear goal and sufficient inspiration and support, you can at least try.  Only then do you have a shot at succeeding.  It is with this attitude that I climb onto the treadmill most mornings before the kids wake up, trying to build my endurance for November 3rd.  Will I make it?  I don’t know.  But I sure am going to try.

And yes, I still own the jacket.

I am running the ING 2013 NYC Marathon on November 3rd in memory of my cousin, Gerry O’Sullivan, and to raise money for Breakthrough Cancer Research.  There is hope, and that hope is in research.  Please visit my JustGiving page here if you would like to learn more.