If you want to want to see the strongest runners in next month’s Broad Street Run, don’t bother watching the front of the pack. Just look for the folks in the green T-shirts.
On May 4, 40,000 runners will line up outside Central High School for the grueling 10-mile race. Among them, 112 women and men will be wearing green shirts with the “SEANstrong” team logo across their chests. None of them will cross the finish line first. But you can bet even the rookies will finish, if not in body than in spirit. The memory of Sean Francis Hogan will carry them.
“If Sean can endure what he endured, then anyone can run ten miles,” said Patty Anne Hogan, a 36-year-old mother of two who lost her husband to a form of liver cancer seven months ago.
Sean Hogan was a Philadelphia firefighter, an Air Force veteran and a graduate of Our Lady of Calvary and Archbishop Ryan. He learned of his cancer in October 2012 and died the following Sept. 23. He was 44. His son, Sean Francis Jr., was 2 years, 5 months old. His daughter, Faith Marie, was 3 months old.
Despite all of that, Patty Anne Hogan manages. When asked recently to describe her husband’s illness, she shared a wealth of knowledge about cholangiocarcinoma. That’s the scientific name for bile duct cancer. It’s a very rare, very silent killer, she said with the poise and authoritativeness of a clinical technician.
With dozens of photos of her husband and their young children watching over the sunroom in her Northeast Philly home, Patty Anne could’ve easily broken into tears, but she didn’t. On the contrary, the snapshots bring her strength. That’s why she and all those people in the green shirts will run 10 miles on May 4.
As a group, they are raising money in Sean’s name for cancer research. The SEANstrong team has collected more than $25,000 so far. The Barkann Family Healing Hearts Foundation is the lead sponsor. Ellen Barkann, wife of Comcast SportsNet and WIP host Michael Barkann, is founder and president of the organization that seeks to support families stricken by sudden illnesses and deaths.
Sean Hogan’s close friend, Sean Taggart, recently hosted the team’s kickoff party in his tavern, The Taggart House, at Frankford Avenue and Knights Road in Torresdale. The event raised $2,500. Other supporters include Three Monkeys Cafe, Joe Ems State Farm and Northeast Racquet and Fitness Center. In addition, each team member will raise at least $250 for the cause. That’s the goal.
“A lot of them are first-time runners,” Hogan said. “I’m [an experienced] runner, but to inspire others to reach their goals is where I’m at. That’s what Sean did. Sean was a very strong man, a very proud man and he never complained.”
Patty Anne plans to use some of the proceeds to fund annual seminars at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where Sean was treated. She wants to help doctors learn more about bile duct cancer, particularly early detection. She also wants to fund research by gastrointestinal specialist Dr. David Loren at Jefferson.
“That’s who I chose to work with because he kept Sean alive for the last year,” Patty Anne said. “At the time, I was kind of naive, I guess. I thought he was going to beat it. But [Loren] kept him alive long enough to meet his daughter, and he had three months with her.”
Sean was always a picture of vitality. That’s what attracted Patty Anne from the first time they met. She was working at Three Monkeys. He stopped there after a long shift with Ladder 2 at Fourth and Arch streets. With Patty Anne scrambling to manage a rush of patrons, Sean playfully teased her. But then he lent a hand. The next time he visited the taproom, they talked some more, then exchanged phone numbers.
“Sean was very full of life. He lived life to the fullest,” Patty Anne said.
By the time they met, she had already run Broad Street several times. For the 2010 race, Sean greeted her at the finish. They married the following year, as Patty Anne skipped the race due to her first pregnancy. In 2012, Sean Sr. and Sean Jr. both cheered her through the finish line.
Sean’s doctors aren’t sure when he began to develop a tumor inside his liver. His symptoms first appeared on Oct. 5, 2012, but the cancer was well-advanced by then. At first, Sean noticed discoloration in his urine. He suspected dehydration. On Oct. 13, Patty Anne discovered she was pregnant with the couple’s second child. Later that week, Sean complained of itching and jaundice. Patty Anne implored him to call their family doctor.
Initially, the doctor suspected hepatitis. Sean’s symptoms intensified over the next few weeks. And he lost 20 pounds. Patty Anne took a day off work and took Sean to a hospital emergency room. After further testing, doctors discovered the tumor.
Doctors informed the couple that only about 3,000 Americans develop Sean’s specific condition each year. Only about 10 percent of cases are operable. Sean was one of the 90 percent because his tumor was already too big.
Over ensuing months, Sean underwent seven procedures where doctors inserted stents into his liver to restore the flow of bile. Loren prescribed chemotherapy, radiation and laser treatments known as PDT to attack the tumor.
“Even when he was sick, he had me read to him a whole article about the new [firefighters] contract because he had every intention of returning to the fire department,” Patty Anne said.
The couple hoped that their new child would be a girl so they could name her Faith. They knew they’d need faith to make it through their crisis. The baby arrived last June 10.
“We saw it as a sign from God that she was a girl,” Patty Anne said.
They found another glimmer of hope when Sean’s tumor got small enough to operate. The surgery was very complex and risky, but it was the only option. Loren removed all of the cancer during the 18-hour procedure. But in the aftermath, Sean didn’t make it out of intensive care.
Taggart delivered Sean’s eulogy. As the mourners were pulling into the cemetery, they received word that the medic unit in Sean’s firehouse caught fire and damaged the building. It’s been closed ever since. ••
To contribute to the SEANstrong team in the Broad Street Run, visit www.thebarkannfoundation.org/seanstrong/