This Day Matters
Mark Schoneveld is running the American Association for Cancer Research Philadelphia Marathon to raise funds for cancer research.
Laying on a cold metal table with his head strapped in place by a custom-fitted mask so his medical team could aim a precise stream of protons at the cancer in his brain, Mark Schoneveld listened to The Beatles’ White Album.
Back in the U.S.S.R. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Revolution. Dear Prudence. And his favorite, Blackbird.
Mark had already undergone two brain surgeries. He was in the midst of a regimen of proton therapy attempting to destroy any remaining malignant cells in his brain. Alone in the treatment room, just blocks from his West Philadelphia home, Mark held on to the music.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly …
The diagnosis of terminal brain cancer was the just latest trial Mark and his family faced from the devastating collection of diseases we call cancer.
In December 2011, Mark’s first-born daughter, Elena Sage, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). She was just six months old. For nearly a year, Mark and his wife, Erin, virtually lived at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, striving to save their baby’s life.
Elena Sage underwent escalating rounds of chemotherapy as doctors tried to get her leukemia into remission.When all that failed, her parents enrolled her in an immunotherapy clinical trial for CAR T-cell therapy. She died before her altered immune cells could be infused back into her system to enable her body to fight the cancer.
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to be free …
"We were so close," Mark recalls. "She went through many treatments and everything and she was such a young child … I don’t have to say much to express how much grief and anxiety that presented."
In March 2013, Mark was working at a music festival in Austin, Texas, when he collapsed with a massive seizure. Erin, who was nearly eight months pregnant at the time, flew to Austin to be with him.
After the festival Mark returned home to Philadelphia, where he was diagnosed with a grade III anaplastic astrocytoma. He soon underwent his first surgery to remove "a big chunk" of tumor. The whirlwind of cancer treatment and life had returned for Mark and Erin.
The couple’s son Soren was born the day after Mark’s second brain surgery. Mark continued to receive proton therapy in West Philadelphia, just across the street from where his beloved Elena Sage had been treated.
After the proton therapy was completed, Mark underwent months of chemotherapy. That was over three years ago. Today, Mark is doing well. The cancer has not returned.
Mark is a stay-at-home dad to Soren and twins Mira and River, who were born in 2015. He writes, and works hard to stay healthy in the face of a disease he knows is likely to take his life someday.
Mark is focused on each day. He wants his children to know their father, know that their daddy loves them. He wants them to see he isn’t afraid despite the private moments when terror grips him like a vise.
Mark wants to live.
"The piece of the disease that hits me every day is that this day matters," he says, "because I’m alive and I can talk and I can walk and I can run."
Running gives him joy. So he runs.
Mark knows the promise of research and its benefits for cancer patients today. Despite the pain of losing a child, he knows that other children are being saved by the CAR T therapy that resulted from the trial Elena Sage was so close to receiving. Despite his struggles with brain cancer, he recognizes that medical advances could lead to new treatments that might keep him alive to watch his children grow.
Mark knows some of the cancer researchers, pioneers who are developing the breakthroughs for patients like him. And he wants to support them in any way he can.
So Mark has joined with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) to help raise funds for cancer research. He will be running in this year’s AACR Philadelphia Marathon as part of the AACR Runners for Research team to raise money and awareness.
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to arise …
For Mark, the moment is now.
You can support Mark’s fundraising efforts against cancer with a donation today. And you can join Mark and the AACR Runners for Research team today to help defeat cancer.