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Declan Rourke, right, who is battling cancer, and his friend Adam Wetherbee will walk in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk on Sept. 8. (Courtesy Photo)

Best friends, 8, join forces to beat cancer

BEDFORD – Declan Rourke and his friend, Adam Wetherbee, both 8, will walk part of the Boston Marathon route to raise funds for childhood cancer research, which is no small feat for Declan, who is a former Jimmy Fund Clinic patient. The two Bedford boys plan to participate in the 25th anniversary of the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk on Sept. 8.

On Father’s Day 2006, when Declan was just 15 months old, doctors discovered a rare, aggressive, fast-growing brain tumor, said Mel Pepin, Declan’s mother.

Known as an atypical teratoid rhabboid tumor (AT/RT), Pepin said within days, Declan immediately underwent surgery to have it removed.

“As soon as they knew what kind of cancer it was, they shipped us to Dana-Farber right away,” Pepin said.

According to Pepin, there is a treatment protocol for most cancers, but not for AT/RT.

“There wasn’t any known treatment, but there was one research study that showed promise,” she said.

Four children had done well with it, and Declan became the fifth.

Over the course of the following two years, Declan endured intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, several surgeries, and countless blood and platelet transfusions.

The treatment prevented him from walking at one point, which makes Declan’s parents even more proud of his determination to complete the walking half-marathon.

Since the completion of Declan’s treatment, his family has made it a priority to raise funds for research, since he remains one of just eight surviving children of that particular drug protocol.

In 2008, Pepin and her husband, Tym, created Team AT/RT, a group of walkers who walk in the one-day fundraising event to raise money in honor of Declan and other children who have lost their lives to, or are battling, AT/RT.

To date, the team has raised more than $225,000 for cancer research.

“Cancers that only affect a small number of kiddos don’t get the research grants,” Pepin said, and research remains an important factor in Declan’s fight.

Now that he is old enough and well enough, Declan joined his family in its quest for funding.

“For Declan, this is sort of a way of life. It’s just what we do,” Pepin said.

Fast friends

The friendship between Declan and Adam Weatherbee began like many friendships between 8-year-olds do – on the baseball field.

Both the boys and their mothers became fast friends.

Pepin said in an email exchange to plan for the team’s end-of-the-year party last year, Michelle saw a link to the walk on Pepin’s signature line, and she and Adam clicked on it to learn more.

“Adam said to his mom, ‘I want to do that, I want to help Declan with that,’” Pepin said.

The two participated in last year’s walk, completing a 5-mile course.

“They said, ‘That was nothing – next year, let’s do 13!’” Pepin said.

“They decided it wasn’t enough, and they wanted to do more,” agreed Adam’s mom, Michelle Coleman.

Coleman said that knowing Declan and his family has put a more personal touch to supporting charities.

“We would always write the checks, but it wasn’t personal,” she said. “But Declan is personal for us.”

Declan and Adam have been training and fundraising together. The boys and their families will be among the expected 8,500 people to participate in walk with the collective goal of raising more than $7 million to support lifesaving adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research for all types of cancer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Declan began third grade this week, and he loves to read and play baseball.

Pepin will walk with Declan on his route.

“We spent a long time not knowing what was going to happen with him,” she said. “To be in a spot where Declan is here and such an amazing kiddo, it’s been very joyful. To be able to do this with my son this year, I can’t even put into words what that’s like.”

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