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Tim O’Sullivan: Running to honor a memory and fight cancer

Maryse Conway of Bradford almost pulled off the miracle upset. After being diagnosed with both a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and a rare immune system disease (HLH), she battled back to near full health until contracting a side effect from a stem cell treatment and eventually passing on Dec. 14, 2011.

Her husband, Joe, stood next to Maryse during the fight, which included raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through running. Near the end, she wanted to make sure he would keep fighting.

“I was doing the half marathons and raising small amounts of money,” Joe Conway said. “And actually during the last week of her life we were having some discussions and she just said, ‘Don’t give up on me.’ ”

He hasn’t given up. In fact, Conway has doubled up, going from the Boston Half Marathon in 2011 and 2012 to running the full course in tomorrow’s 117th Boston Marathon as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team. Tomorrow also happens to be Conway’s 60th birthday.

“There’s no better way to spend my birthday than to honor my wife,” he said.

That honoring will come complete with a flashy gift, although the birthday boy will

be the one doing the giving. As of Friday afternoon, Conway had raised more than $11,500 for Dana-Farber, well past his goal of $10,000.

Setting a fundraising goal is part of the intense selection process applicants must go through to join the Dana-Farber running team. The minimum commitment this year, set by the Boston Athletic Association, was $4,000, but Conway, who is a vice president at Claremont Savings Bank, did some calculating of his own.

“I came up with a number a little over 10,000, but I had never raised that much money, so I took 10,000 as a round number and I thought, ‘I better make it,’ ” Conway said. “I’ve just been overwhelmed with all the support and the responses and some of the sources of where the money has come from.”

Conway has stayed in touch with his donors through a monthly email detailing his training routine and state of mind.

“I don’t really journal, but I keep a log and note the good days and the bad days, talk about my nagging injuries, let people know how I’m doing and what I’m doing, that I’m not just sitting idly by,” Conway said. “I try to put some humor in it, too, and let people know how their support helps me through some of the tough days.”

This isn’t the first time Conway has trained for a marathon. He ran Boston in 1989 and 1990, and in 1992 he ran the Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene in 2 hours, 28 minutes, his personal best time, “but that was back when I was a young guy,” said Conway, who hopes to finish this race in 3:45-4:00.

He used his previous marathon experience to help him train this spring, but he also had the aid of the Dana-Farber team. Jack Fultz, the winner of the 1976 Boston Marathon, advises team members during their training, and Conway traveled to Boston several times to run with the team along sections of the marathon course.

“You get to know a lot of people and then you have some good running partners,” Conway said. “And it gives you some experience with the course, which is nice.”

He’ll stay with the team this weekend in Copley Square and go on a group trip to visit children at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.

“It will be a great last little bit of inspiration and get us in the right mindset for the race,” Conway said.

During the race, Conyway will have a picture of Maryse and himself from their honeymoon tucked into his shirt. Their two daughters, Aryn and Megan, and niece Gina Richard, will be cheering him on from the Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square, where Richard works. And all three will be waiting for him afterward to celebrate his birthday and a day well spent.

“This is just a way I can give back,” Conway said. “Maybe this can help some other people that are experiencing what we went through, or maybe even prevent somebody from experiencing that.”

To contribute to Dana-Farber through Conway, go to

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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