On any given Saturday, if you decide to take a drive around Colts Neck, there’s a good chance you’ll come across resident TJ Hanlon breaking a sweat while running a few miles. While his weekend exercise routine may not be unusual to the untrained eye, it’s most surprising to Hanlon himself, who wouldn’t describe himself as the running type.
“I’m not a runner,” Hanlon said. “Unorganized, I’ve only ran eight miles, and I’ve been diligently trying to increase my mileage. My long run is always on Saturday, and it’s up to 16 miles.”
Hanlon adopted the rigorous exercise routine back in May when he decided to participate in the 2022 New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 6. Since then, training for the iconic race has been incorporated into his daily schedule alongside studying for his M.D. at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
While running the marathon will help Hanlon meet a personal goal of his, the race holds a much more special meaning for him. He plans on running in honor of his mother, Linda Hanlon, who passed away from glioblastoma, an aggressive, terminal type of brain cancer, in 2019.
“She was someone that would brighten any room that she walked into,” Hanlon said. “She was a very good cook, a hardworking person – up early in the morning and staying up late at night. She was always running around for mine or my brother’s sporting events and driving us back and forth. Just a caring person.”
Hanlon started to notice changes in his mother’s behavior in 2018 during a phone call to her on her birthday. According to Hanlon, his typically in-tune mom was suddenly repeating herself and struggling to remember certain details.
“I called my dad and said, ‘I think something is wrong with Mom,’” Hanlon said.
Hanlon’s mother was taken to Jersey Shore Medical Center where a CT scan showed a large mass on her brain. After being transferred to New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, repeat scans and biopsies determined the mass was glioblastoma.
“When she found out she had a mass on her brain, she was distraught, but we didn’t know the full prognosis,” Hanlon said. “She had surgery to try to remove part of the tumor and afterwards, she was not really herself. Her short-term memory was basically non-existent, so she never really knew what was going on.”
Hanlon took time off from medical school to serve as his mother’s full-time caretaker. Although he and his family tried to make her as comfortable as possible during this time, her health took a turn for the worse in April 2019.
“Her scans showed the tumor was not responding, and it was getting worse,” Hanlon said. “In June, she had a seizure while we were eating dinner, and she never recovered. She was in the hospital for a month or so, and then she went on hospice.”
Linda Hanlon passed away on July 17, 2019, only nine months after her initial diagnosis.
After his mother’s passing, TJ Hanlon knew he needed to do something to both honor her memory and continue to give back to the community that helped his family so immensely in their time of need.
“Throughout the course of her illness, we were doing everything humanly and physically possible [to help her]. We went to the best neurosurgeon we could find. We tried to get her on clinical trials. We were going above and beyond,” he said. “When she passed away, that was the end of it. I felt like there was still more that could be done, and I knew because she was well-respected and had a lot of friends, that if I started to fundraise somehow, there would be people to follow that cause.”
Although Hanlon had never ran a marathon before, he felt it was the perfect way to both push himself and continue his fight for glioblastoma research. He decided to run the marathon with Fred’s Team, a running program through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) that donates 100 percent of the money raised to MSK labs to further cancer research.
“I’m not in the most ridiculous shape, but I try to remain active, so I thought running the marathon would be a cathartic way of training, fundraising and working toward this goal beyond her passing,” Hanlon said. “I knew MSK was involved in the marathon, and it’s one of the top – if not the top – cancer research institute in the country and in the world, so I felt really motivated to work with them. I didn’t want to just ask people for money; I wanted to do something for it.”
Currently, Hanlon has raised more than $12,000 for Fred’s Team and hopes to reach his $15,000 goal by race time in November.
When asked how his mom would feel about him tackling this challenge, Hanlon had no doubt she would have shown her support.
“I think she would be very proud and not want me to do too much or go overboard, which I might already have at this point,” he said. “If she was here, she would be behind me 100 percent on my training runs and, at the finish line, she would be there helping me along the way.”
For more information and to donate, visit mskcc.convio.net/goto/lindahanlon1.