A family of strength

SEAN­strong: More than 100 people will par­ti­cip­ate in the Broad Street Run on May 4 in memory of Sean Fran­cis Hogan. A Phil­adelphia fire­fight­er and Air Force vet­er­an, Hogan lost his battle with liv­er can­cer on Sept. 23, 2013. His wife, Patty Anne, sits with their chil­dren Sean Fran­cis Jr., 3, and Faith Mar­ie, 10 months. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

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/

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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