Leslie Pascual-Esposito decided to run the Boston Marathon for Team Eye and Ear as a celebration of her health and 40th birthday, nearly one year after she underwent surgery to remove a thyroid growth.
By any measure, running the Boston Marathon is a feat of athleticism and endurance that is nothing short of impressive. For Leslie Pascual-Esposito, who is running her first Boston Marathon on April 17th only one year removed from surgery to remove half of her thyroid, “impressive” barely scratches the surface.
Leslie, a software architect from Quincy, Mass. and mother-of-two, decided to run this year’s marathon as a gift to herself to celebrate her 40th birthday and her getting her health back, as she puts it. Something that makes it even more special for her is that she is running it for Team Eye and Ear, to support the hospital she said gave her back her life. In April of 2022, Leslie underwent surgery with Greg Randolph, MD, director of the Thyroid and Parathyroid Endocrine Surgical Division at Mass Eye and Ear, to remove a large growth on her thyroid.
“What better way to celebrate than by doing something for myself and also paying it forward,” Leslie told Focus. “Running for Team Eye and Ear allows me to say thank you and to give back to this medical team that took me in and took care of me.”
Returning home amidst a health scare
Leslie considers herself a “New England girl at heart.” She immigrated from the Dominican Republic and grew up in Brooklyn before moving to Boston as she came of age. She attended the Boston Latin School and stayed local for college afterwards. Once she graduated, Leslie moved up to New Hampshire and started a family and had two young boys, who are now 9 and 12 years old.
When Leslie looks back at her last two years, it’s evident how far she has come. Right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, she got a divorce and had to navigate all the changes that accompany that as the world around her shut down. She was understandably under a significant amount of stress, and her whole health became impacted.
“I just felt physically unwell,” she recalled. “I could feel in my body, that this wasn’t me.”
She advocated for herself to get seen by a specialist. Leslie recalled that at her first appointment with her endocrinologist, the doctor walked in and noticed from across the room a lump on her neck. She walked over and examined the growth, and ordered some testing – an ultrasound, biopsy and genetic testing. Her doctor said Leslie should consider getting the growth removed. She remembered the doctor telling her, “You should find out where Dr. Gregory Randolph is these days.”
Realizing she wanted a support system and her family around her, Leslie and her two boys moved back to the Boston area in the fall of 2021. Once settled, she reached out to Dr. Randolph’s office in early 2022 to address the growth on her neck. Dr. Randolph and his team evaluated her case and ordered additional tests, and he agreed it would be best for it to come out.
From that point, she put her faith into the medical team who she recalled had a process that made her feel at ease and taken care of from the very beginning. She had never gone through such a health scare and the team “put her on a path” and walked her through everything she should expect in the coming months, from the details of the surgery through the recovery.
“They were very straightforward with me, they didn’t promise me any results but explained the process they had laid out for me in a way that made me feel taken care of,” said Leslie. “Dr. Randolph met with me himself, and the fact that I got to meet and work directly with such an esteemed surgeon felt really good. You feel like you’re in good hands and within two months, I had my surgery done.”
The medical team removed half her thyroid and with Leslie, agreed to continue monitoring the other half. With any surgery of this kind, there is a risk to damage the surrounding nerves, however Leslie’s was a resounding success.
“Patients like Leslie are the reason I come to work every day,” Dr. Randolph told Focus. He noted that most young people don’t go through experiences like this; they may have up until now had colds or a broken bone and felt like everything in their lives was going to be fine. Then they’re told they have a lump.
“I recognize that, and I’m inspired by people who partner with me and together, hand-in-hand and step-by-step, we get them through it. And for Leslie to take all that energy and worry from the experience and make a positive out of it to run the marathon and donate her proceeds to the hospital, it’s such an inspirational arc to her story.”
Training in the marathon’s backyard
Leslie fell in love with running after college. She first did it for exercise and meditation, and soon found herself doing 5Ks and “all the Ks” and eventually a half marathon. One meaningful experience she recalled was participating in the Ragnar Relay race in Cape Cod with a group of girlfriends, a team effort where groups of 10 people run 200 miles over the course of 30 hours, sleeping in vans and living off candy bars. After that, she felt confident she could take on a marathon and put Boston’s on her bucket list.
After her surgery, Leslie was restricted from any exercise that would require her to move her neck, but within a few months, she was back running. She also reconnected with a great man named David and moved to a new house and planned an intimate family wedding that October. The marathon was still in the back of her mind but with so much going on, she felt this might not be the year. That is until an email came into her inbox noting that Team Eye and Ear was recruiting runners.
“I had looked at the times needed to qualify, and thought, ‘well forget about that,’” she said. “I had no idea how to apply to a team and get into this marathon, so I took this email as a sign that meant I’m supposed to do this.”
She said she has really enjoyed the support and coaching from Team Eye and Ear, from the training to working with a nutritionist to preparing for the specifics of the race. And what has made it even more special is she gets to train and run the race in her very own backyard, in the place she grew up and returned to and received life-changing medical care.
“This is my first marathon and it’s Boston, it’s at home. Being able to run towards home is motivating me and living in Quincy, it’s so cool that I get to run up Wollaston Beach as I train, running towards the Boston skyline,” said Leslie. “This experience has been so spiritual, and I can’t wait for race day.”