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Natick - Local Town Pages

Walking Toward Healing

By Sean Sullivan

During a routine checkup when Nicholas was 2 years old, medical staff realized something was wrong.

“They said ‘go to the hospital immediately’”, said Catherine Collins, the boy’s grandmother. “That’s where the journey sort of started.”

Treatments included a bone-marrow transplant, a taxing procedure that nevertheless failed to turn the tide in Nicholas’favor. His parents were desperate for any potential lifeline and signed on for some experimental treatments. Yet it was soon apparent that Nicholas’ illness was too much for his small frame and few years.

“They realized it’s not going to work,” said Collins.

Family and friends lost him in the spring of 2022.

And like most parents, relatives and friends watching loved ones struggling with grievous illness, Collins felt like a bystander in the battle.

“They had plenty of family support,” she said of Nicholas and his parents, but there was precious little anyone could do to directly combat the cancer threatening the young boy.

“I was so powerless,” said Collins.

Yet her husband had known a friend who had some experience in trying to beat back cancer, someone who’d suggested an avenue through which Collins might direct her energies and emotions – the Jimmy Fund Walk.

Established in 1948, the walk’s parent charity was aimed at raising funds for the newly-founded Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “Jimmy” was the epithet assigned to a young cancer patient at the time, the nickname adopted to maintain the child’s anonymity. His illness captivated the country, and the fund inspired by Jimmy continues its work to this day.

Collins sees her own efforts with the charity as partly a way to keep her Nicholas’ name alive and on people’s minds, as well as the illness he struggled with.

“It gives an opportunity to continue talking about our grandson,” said Collins. His affliction was an uncommon species of the disease, which often means attracting fewer resources in the research and battle against it.  

“This is a pediatric cancer that doesn’t get much funding,” said Collins. There was little question, then, that she would walk to help remedy that shortfall. “I said, ‘I’m doing it. I’m doing it’.”  

Walking had already been an engrained habit for Collins; her regular routine included sauntering Natick suburbs, sometimes taking photographs during her strolls. Now, that commonplace and familiar custom took on extraordinary new meaning.

Making strides on behalf of her newly-adopted charity allowed the 59-year-old Natick resident a sense of fighting back against the illness that had robbed them of their Nicholas.

“I rapidly raised a whole lot of money for the Jimmy Fund,” she said.

Though this year’s walk in now in the near rearview, walkers and fellow fundraisers alike continue to actively solicit donation on behalf of their chosen charity.

The first of this month marked Collins’ second walking of the event, which fittingly follows the route of the Boston Marathon. It’s no short neighborhood stroll, Collins completing the 26.2-mile trek last year in around eight hours, pushing through from start to finish.

“It’s one of the most well-run things I’ve ever seen,” said Collins

The walk employs a rolling start, with groups setting out in staggered intervals throughout the morning and early afternoon. Water and snack stations are maintained by volunteers all along the route, but Collins resisted the temptation to take a seat that first year.

During traumatic times, momentum can carry one through fatigue and grief for a while. Whether in the form of slow steps, and/or the stalwart solicitation of donations, forward movement can be a sustaining salve for both body and spirit.    

“If I stop,” said Collins, “I’m afraid I’ll seize up. I just keep walking.”