Quinnipiac alumnae raise over $78,000 for Dana-Farber

May 17, 2023

Kristina Coccoluto completes the Boston Marathon.

Three Bobcat alumnae united as teammates to cross the finish line of the 127th Boston Marathon while raising over $78,000 for cutting-edge cancer research.

This year, Jillian Blumberg '08, who earned a degree in public relations; Kristina (Bramante) Coccoluto ’08, who earned a degree in public relations; and Samantha Higgins, ’09, who earned a degree in finance, joined the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, which has as its goal a world without cancer. Each team member had different reasons for undertaking the challenge to complete the iconic, 26.2-mile course on April 17.

“At mile 25, you feel so tired, but you feel good, because every mile you’ve run is a mile that’s been sponsored by a donor,” said Blumberg.

Blumberg completed the April race despite breaking her leg in February, due to a misstep on a long training run. She underwent intensive therapy and training to get back on track.

“I was not going to miss it,” said Blumberg. “The doctor who cleared me to run said, ‘Get to the start line, get going, and see how you feel. If it works, keep going.’”

Blumberg was determined to complete the marathon in honor of her late friend and college roommate, Jana Piccola.

Blumberg raised $15,837 for Dana-Farber in Piccola’s honor.

Diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma in high school, Piccola was later diagnosed with leukemia mid-way through her senior year in college. She passed away in October, 2008.

“We celebrated her 21st birthday at Quinnipiac,” said Blumberg. “She went home for winter break and was unable to finish her senior year. As a result, she was not eligible to graduate or walk with us in May. She died on Halloween, her favorite holiday, six months later.”

Coccoluto and Blumberg also became friends as Quinnipiac undergraduates. Due to her family history, Coccoluto was aware she faced a high risk for both breast cancer and ovarian cancer. In 2011, Coccoluto tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Five years later, to reduce her breast cancer risk, she elected to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Last October, 28 weeks prior to the Boston Marathon, Coccoluto opted to have surgery to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer.

Coccoluto raised $31,175 for Dana-Farber.

“Dana Farber has guided me to a life without another cancer diagnosis thus far. It's the only organization I would run 26.2 miles for, 28 weeks after my salpingo-oophorectomy and hysterectomy,” said Coccoluto.

The daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor, Coccoluto is married and a mom to three young children. Coccoluto said her fundraising efforts and training for the marathon was spurred on knowing the result would support cutting-edge cancer research at Dana-Farber. Among its drug developments is a monthly treatment her father is actively receiving for a rare liver carcinoid, she explained.

“Cancer has wreaked havoc on my family, but we have hope, based on our own experience. I am a Dana-Farber patient along with my parents and sisters. We have all undergone genetic testing here. Surveillance and treatment have kept my parents alive,” said Coccoluto.

“Kristina was named the Keynote Speaker at our Dana-Farber Pasta Party – a tradition held the Sunday before Marathon Monday,” Blumberg shared. “It’s an event that yields over a thousand attendees consisting of charity runners, our family members – and the reason we run – our patient partners. Her speech was so eloquent.”

Like Blumberg, Coccoluto also experienced an injury during marathon training, tearing her meniscus in early February.

“Given our circumstances, Kristina and I never thought about quitting,” Blumberg said. “Instead, our running shifted to cross training, physical therapy, and rehabilitation therapy. We both showed up on Marathon Monday and we crossed that finished line. We showed up for ourselves and had the honor of running with Samantha and 30,000 other runners.”

Before they became Quinnipiac undergraduates, Blumberg and Higgins attended the same high school.

“We played on the same field hockey and lacrosse teams. I knew her parents, and I remember them being on the sidelines at our games,” said Blumberg.

Tragically, Higgins’ parents passed away from cancer last year, within weeks of one another.

“Her mom Wendy passed away at the end of July of 2022, only 40 days after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Her dad, Geoff, passed away at the end of August of 2022, only 70 days after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. She lost both of her parents in an unfathomable timespan of 64 days,” said Blumberg.

“Cancer turned my whole world upside down in 2022,” said Higgins. “I am hoping to turn my grief, sadness and anger into motivation to make a difference.”

Higgins raised $31,180 for Dana-Farber.

In addition to running in honor of her parents, Higgins said she also ran on behalf of many survivors she feels lucky to have in her life, as well as those special people currently receiving treatment.

Blumberg said the alumni hope sharing their story will inspire other #BobcatNation members to strive to achieve extraordinary charitable goals.

“The real honor was running for Dana-Farber, and all three of being able to fulfill our commitment behind our fundraising efforts,” said Blumberg.

Collectively they raised $78,192.

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