Beyond Mile 21 is a miniseries featuring the personal stories behind members of the Boston College community and their journeys to run the Boston Marathon.
Before Will Carome, MCAS '17, started training for the Boston Marathon, he had never run more than five miles. A self-described “kinda fat fifth-grader,” Carome now pushes his body to its peak of exhaustion. Following a rigid 22-week level four training plan from the Boston Athletic Association, he often wakes up at 6 a.m. before his 9 a.m. class to run. After ingesting a scoop of peanut butter and oatmeal, Carome laces up his Mizzuno Waverunners, clips on his running FlipBelt, and hits the pavement.
Wireless headphones, bumping classic rock anthems—The Who, Rolling Stones, and Led Zepellin—provide ample auditory ammunition.
Emotions run high when you’re running for a cause.
Carome doesn’t downplay the physical adversity he’s faced. Running 60 plus miles per week in the frigid Boston air takes its toll on the human body. Long runs, beginning with 10 miles last December, are scheduled for Sundays. Marathon training requires sacrifice, and Carome admits he’s relinquished Saturday nights out as a second semester senior.
Despite a demanding running regimen, Carome maintains a three-day a week weight lifting routine to stay fit for rugby. A four year member of Boston College’s rugby team, the sport has become more than a pastime for Carome. BC Rugby has become Carome’s closest friend network on campus—offering the best fusion of athletics and brotherly comradery. The sport has also yielded its share of nagging injuries, including multiple broken noses and persistent knee tendinitis, both of which aren’t ideal for marathon training.
Carome recalls one especially brutal 22 mile Sunday outing in late March as his most difficult run to date. Light on sleep and scarce on energy, he pushed himself to 14 miles and stopped at a red light to check his phone. A text message from Sarah Woods, a fellow marathon runner fundraising for Newton’s Wellesley Hospital, gave him a boost of confidence.
The text read, “Remember why you’re running.” A quick glance down at the National Brain Tumor Society T-shirt on his chest provided Carome the only inspiration he needed. He pushed through the run before his girlfriend and “biggest cheerleader,” Lauren, met him with a plate of food and four Powerades.
Carome, a Biology major with a minor in Economics, learned of the diagnosis only weeks before his junior year at BC in August of 2015. The end of a late night drive from Washington, D.C. to Cape Cod yielded a traumatic memory that would shake the Carome family. Carome watched as his mother, Elsie, had an inexplicable grand mal seizure in their hotel room. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital in Hyannis, but she remained unresponsive.
“That was easily the scariest moment of my life. It was a 45-minute drive, and I wasn’t sure if she was going to wake up,” Carome said.
An MRI indicated Elsie Carome had a Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) Stage IV brain tumor in her left temporal lobe. Shortly after Mrs. Carome’s initial diagnosis, treatment at Georgetown Hospital successfully removed her brain tumor. However, numerous cycles of chemotherapy kept her in the hospital for three more weeks in November. The Carome family celebrated Thanksgiving in the hospital that year, and the entire family has found ways to help out. Carome’s aunt, Caroline Kermath, even moved in with the family to help with her recovery since the fall of 2016.
Nearly 20 months after her diagnosis, Mrs. Carome’s health has drastically progressed. She has finished her chemotherapy, and she routinely checks in with doctors and gets an MRI every two months. With clear brain scans, Carome proudly tracks his mom’s increased independence.
“She’s doing way better than the prognosis. But with the nature of the cancer that could change so fast, you never know. But other than not driving, she’s pretty much back to where she was, if not better, which is huge.”
Junior year is stressful for any college student, but the burden of feeling a mother’s pain is especially difficult. Throughout this family hardship, Carome turned to the BC community for support. Carome began volunteering with 4Boston his sophomore year, but the club’s reflections proved most fruitful junior year amidst his greatest family hardship. BC’s Relay For Life, the annual fundraiser for lost loved ones and cancer survivors on behalf of the America Cancer Society, has provided another outlet of support.
“It’s so powerful to see how many people are going through this. It was a great experience, and it reminded me of my mom and how positive she’s been.”
Most of all, Carome admires his mother’s persistent positivity. At the Brain Tumor Walk in Boston last fall, Carome and his sister Katie, a BC ’15 graduate, carried two signs; one read, “Warriors for a Cure,” the other, “We Walk for Our Mom.” The words reflect Mrs. Carome’s uplifted spirit in the face of cancer’s uncompromising adversity. Despite cancer treatment, Elsie Carome continues to devote time to serving the homeless in Washington, D.C.
“She’s been so incredibly positive,” Carome said. “The most amazing thing is about her is that through all this, she has constantly found ways to help other people.”
In addition to 4Boston reflections and Relay For Life, running has become therapeutic for Carome. Running offers a paradoxical time to think amidst seemingly mindless physical activity. Carome always envisioned running the Boston Marathon since freshman year on The Heights, but the magnitude of his mother’s illness provided the ultimate ignition. Set on running 26.2 miles this April, Carome only needed to find an organization to sponsor his run.
When his sister Katie sent him a Facebook post link, Carome found the ideal organization—the National Brain Tumor Society. Founded in 2008 and headquartered in Massachusetts, the Brain Tumor Society is the largest non-profit organization committed to finding a cure for brain tumors in the United States. After emailing the Brain Tumor Society with his compelling story and detailed fundraising plan, Carome received a quick response inviting him to join their team of runners.
Generosity from countless family members, high school friends, anonymous donors, and the BC community has allowed Carome to exceed his fundraising goal of $8,000. Currently at $8,425, Carome has proudly surpassed his initial goal, and every dollar counts, for donations to the Brain Tumor Society go directly to brain tumor research. According to Carome, the most rewarding part of training is remembering that his physical efforts produce donations toward creating a cure.
As Marathon Monday approaches, emotions run even higher. Carome’s mother and sister, granted two VIP tickets from the Brain Tumor Society, will be waiting for him at the finish line.
Come April 17, Carome will wear his National Brain Tumor Society shirt, the constant reminder of the reason he’s chosen this 26.2-mile odyssey—his mother. A pin with Mrs. Carome’s face will also remain clipped to his shoelaces as well. Along with 30,000 runners, Carome eagerly awaits his chance to reach the Mile 21 checkpoint.
“I’m really motivated to see everyone at Heartbreak Hill…I really can’t wait,” Carome said.
Visit Carome’s fundraising page here to donate and to read more about his story.