Alexa is our Hero

Jimmy Fund Walk 2017
Steve McGrath, September 2017

She’s a major reason we do the Jimmy Fund Walk, and why you should, too. 

Alexa Payamps was born in New York, lived in the Dominican Republic, attends college in Massachusetts, loves English bulldogs, and hopes to move to Korea someday.

Though she’s clearly on the move, you’ll find her in the heart of Boston on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai. We at Brodeur Partners are honored to call Alexa our Walk Hero. (A Walk Hero is a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute patient matched with a Walk team for mutual inspiration.)

When life changed

Prior to Dec. 14, 2014, Alexa was a normal high-school senior who loved to sing, read, and learn about other cultures, especially Asia – and particularly the Korean culture a friend introduced her to. Its pop music most of all.

The diagnosis, so close to Christmas, was acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer.

Already roiling with teenage emotions, Alexa was floored by the news. She tried to refuse treatment. Her family gently pushed her, though, and she entered Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Angry.

“When I started chemo, I was externalizing, being aggressive,” she recalls. “The people at Dana-Farber were just incredible. They completely understood what was going on with me, psychologically as well as physically, and didn’t judge me despite my outbursts.”

Working through it

With doctors’ and nurses’ support, she learned to let go of the anger. The hair issue never bothered her; in fact, she shaved it before it fell out. The weakness, the weight gain, and the general upheaval of her senior year were tougher. Eventually, she got through it.

The blues are gone – see the smile? – and so, it appears, is the cancer. She gets regular checkups at Dana-Farber. She attends community college and is working to transfer to a four-year college to study international relations. She would love to work with the United Nations on human rights and gender equality.

Okay, in all honesty, that’s Plan B. Plan A is working in the Korean music industry, maybe even singing. Who doesn’t have a dream? Either way, she would like to live in Korea.

For now, it’s Methuen. Her late-summer reading was Stephen King’s “It,” which she heartily recommends to friends. Another passion is English bulldogs (“I love their squishiness”).

Moving forward

The most important thing on Alexa’s to-do list is getting to the five-year mark where remission is assumed to be permanent. As fantastic as remission is, chemo’s side effects will forever remind her of what she’s been through.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she says. “Not that others are immature, but I’m more mature at my age than I should be. I look at a lot of things differently than if I hadn’t gone through cancer. I’ve learned to put things in perspective, and I’ve learned to respect people’s differences.”

That attitude is one of many things we love about our Walk Hero, one of 52 Walk Heroes for this year’s event. Their portraits will line the 26.2-mile Walk route every half-mile from Hopkinton to Copley Square.

Alexa will spend part of the day at her poster.  She would love to see you out there among the 9,500 participants.

“Not only is the Walk inspirational for patients, it’s good to do for yourself,” says Alexa. “It exposes you to other people and their problems just take your mind off your own problems for a while. It’s mindboggling to me that others are willing to walk for a cause that may not directly affect them, yet be so passionate about it. As a person who’s had cancer, I’m so grateful for those who walk.”