EASTON — When Easton restaurateur Neil Levine was diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things he did was look at the calendar.
The date he was looking for on his treatment schedule wasn’t a preplanned vacation or an important family wedding. It was the date of the Falmouth Road Race in relation to when his treatment would end.
“I said, ‘Radiation should end a week or two before Falmouth, I think I can still do Falmouth this year,'” Levine said in a recent phone interview. “‘Let’s make it a goal that gets me through the starting line of Falmouth and dedicate it to something I really care about.'”
Levine, a co-owner of Maguire’s Bar and Grill in Easton who lives in Mansfield, said he noticed some swelling and a lump in his neck on April 3 of this year. Two days later, he had an ultrasound, and his biopsy was on April 10.
A couple days later, Levine learned that he had metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer that spreads to lymph nodes in the neck.
After many tests and scans over the next week, Levine underwent a six-hour surgery on May 3.
“They took out a 4-by-2 tumor, 48 lymph nodes and my tonsils,” he said.
Levine spent five days in the hospital following his surgery. A DNA test shortly after determined there was no more cancer in his system.
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Surprised even his doctor with road race plan
“I told my doctor what I was planning to do,” Levine said of his decision to run the Falmouth Road Race so soon after finishing cancer treatment. “He told me I’d be the first patient he ever had to do something like that.”
After healing from his surgery, Levine’s radiation began on June 19. For six weeks, Levine went to chemotherapy every day until July 31.
That left less than three weeks before the Falmouth Road Race on Aug. 20.
Levine began running the Falmouth race, a 7-mile seaside course, during his sophomore year of high school. This year was his 41st race.
“For most people, it’s a road race. For me, it’s kind of a reflection of where I’m at in my life,” Levine said. “It’s a very spiritual race for me. I told myself, ‘I’m going to get to the starting line. I don’t know if I’ll get to the finish line, I don’t know if I’ll walk or crawl. I don’t know if I’m going to drop out.'”
Levine’s hotel for Falmouth was at the 4-mile marker. He said he told his wife and doctor that he could always drop out then if the beginning wasn’t going well.
But Levine did a lot more than just walk.
“I just figured I’d start walking. Maybe I’d walk a little bit, maybe I’d run a little bit, maybe I’d crawl. The gun went off, I put one foot in front of the other and jogged the whole way through it,” he said. “It was my slowest Falmouth I ever ran. I’ve ran thousands of races in my life — it was the slowest race I ever ran — but to me it was the best race I ever ran in my entire life. I shed a lot of tears the whole way.”
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Running to help kids impacted by homelessness
Levine said the experience was made even sweeter by raising money for an organization close to his heart.
He ran to support School on Wheels, a local nonprofit organization that offers programs to provide academic stability and hope for children impacted by homelessness.
In addition to raising money for the organization for the race, Levine said he and his business partners decided to donate 30% of sales on the restaurant’s 30th anniversary to School on Wheels.
In total, Levine raised at least $15,000.
“It’s such a great cause. They lift people up — they give a hand up instead of a handout,” he said. “Kids can’t choose the situations they’re brought into. It’s not their fault they’re in the situation they’re in. If anyone needs a reason to change the cycle of poverty or homelessness, we owe it to ourselves to do that. I’ve been blessed in life, and you’ve got to give back.”
School on Wheels named Levine the organization’s “Champion for our Kids” this year. He also received state recognition and an official citation from local state senators for his work.
“You can’t change the circumstances that happen to you in life, you can only change how you react to those circumstances. That ability to accept the things you can’t change and effect change on the things you can and try to leave the world a better place, that’s their message. That’s what they teach the kids every day.”
Levine said he and his business partners plan to continue donating to School on Wheels on future anniversaries of Maguire’s and to raise the percentage each year.
Enterprise senior reporter Cody Shepard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.