Caravan rolls by Dana-Farber to celebrate Haverhill man’s 27th birthday

BOSTON — Chris Smith probably never imagined he’d spend his 27th birthday receiving infusion treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston amid a global pandemic.

Not only was Smith, of Haverhill, in the hospital for his birthday, he was also alone. Hospitals in Massachusetts and many across the country have strict “no visitor" policies in place for all patients because of the coronavirus outbreak.

But his fiancée, Mariah Dodge, had an idea. You may be familiar with the birthday caravan parades. Well, Dodge took it to new heights. Six floors up to be exact.

“I hate the thought of him bearing all this alone, sitting in a room all day getting chemo,“ said Dodge. “I wanted to do something to show him how much he’s loved by everybody and how thankful everyone is that he’s alive and that he’s fighting for his life.”

Smith is battling cancer for the third time. He was a pediatric patient at the Jimmy Fund Clinic and then last year, doctors found tumors in his nose. It was a rare cancer that required invasive surgeries and treatments. He recovered, but in January, Smith’s cancer returned. “We found out he had seven to nine brain tumors on his brain. So you hear someone has seven to nine brain tumors and that sounds absolutely awful,” said Dodge.

On Thursday, Smith watched from his hospital window as nearly two dozen cars, filled with friends and family, briefly stopped traffic along Brookline Avenue. They honked, held up signs and balloons, and lined the sidewalk showing their love and support from a safe distance.

To pull off a surprise like this, Dodge enlisted the help of Smith’s amazing nurses. They helped coordinate the surprise, and even arranged a FaceTime call between the couple.

“He was napping during his infusion,” said Holly Lopes, an oncology nurse. “We went in with cake and balloons and said ‘happy birthday.’ He thought we were just going in to wish him happy birthday, but he was surprised when we said there were other people here who wanted to wish him a happy birthday. I think we were so surprised how many people came to help support him.”

“It really was so special and so touching, especially during this time," said Tura Coombs, a nurse navigator in the head and neck oncology unit. “It’s very stressful for all of us, so it made our day too.”

“He has been through a lot, a lot of things, and has remained the most optimistic, positive person,” said Dodge, adding that he makes her laugh every day she even jokingly asks him if he’s even human because he’s always in good spirits.

That’s why she wanted to be sure she put a smile on his face, even if she couldn’t be there in person to see it. The couple has been together for eight years and engaged for four. Dodge says bumps in the road have kept them from saying, “I do,” but she hopes once the treatment is over, and the coronavirus is no longer a threat, they can finally tie the knot in 2021.

Dodge said Smith is responding well to treatment and should be wrapping up chemo and immunotherapy at the end of May.

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