, Newburyport, MA

March 11, 2014

An apology to the Seely family

Mac Cerullo
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I’ve always been taught that when you make a mistake, you need to own up to it.

Yesterday, I made a mistake, a huge mistake.

In yesterday’s paper, I wrote an article about a Newburyport native named Cate Seely who is running the Boston Marathon for the third time this year after not being able to finish last year due to the bombings. In the article, I wrote that her mother had recently died of breast cancer. That was not correct, she did contract breast cancer, but she beat the disease and is still alive today.

The error came about as a result of a misunderstanding on my part. During my conversation with Cate last week, she told me that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer last fall and that it was thankfully a short battle. Rather than ask her to clarify whether she meant that her mother had survived or passed away, I violated one of the most basic tenants of journalism and made an assumption. For that, the blame for the error belongs squarely on my shoulders.

When I was informed of the error, I called both Cate and her mother Ginny to apologize. While they were understandably upset, they were both gracious and understanding about the situation, and for that I’m thankful, considering they could have told me to take a hike and been totally justified in doing so.

That being said, I don’t pretend to expect that a phone call should make up for such an egregious error. The Seely family deserves more than an apology and a short correction at the bottom of the Opinion page, so allow me the opportunity to set the record straight.

Ginny Seely is an RN at Anna Jaques Hospital, where she has worked for more than eight years as a quality specialist in the hospital’s quality department. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last September, and shortly afterwards she underwent surgery and completed six and a half weeks of daily radiation treatment.

Since Ginny’s cancer was discovered early on during a yearly mammogram, she did not require chemotherapy. She underwent her treatment at Anna Jaques Hospital, right across the parking lot from the building where she works every day, and described her experience there as exceptional.

Ginny offered high praise for her doctors and the staff who treated her, particularly for Dr. Peter Hartmann, her surgeon, and Claire Fung, her radiation oncologist, and added that not having to drive to Boston every day during the dead of winter saved her a lot of time and stress.

Ginny completed her treatment on Jan. 28 and is now cancer free. Since then, she has been easing her way back to work, and as of this week, she is now working four days a week and soon she will be back to full-time duty.

Ginny is a survivor, she battled cancer and she won. She and her life should be celebrated, and she does not deserve to have people come up to her saying that they read in the newspaper that she died.

And Cate should be celebrated too, she is running the Boston Marathon to raise money for cancer research. She has had numerous friends and family members battle the disease, and she is running this year in honor of her neighbor Joan Rogers, who died of cancer two weeks before last year’s marathon.

Running the Marathon isn’t just some trivial endeavor, it’s a major commitment that requires months of training – both physical and mental – and finishing the race is a huge accomplishment no matter who you are.

Cate has raised thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and next month she will be running the race for the third time. She woke up on Monday excited to read her story in the paper, but instead of getting to share that story with all of her friends, she had to call her Mom at work to explain why people suddenly thought she was dead. She didn’t deserve that either.

The fact that I failed Cate, her mother and the rest of the Seely family in my duty as a journalist isn’t a matter I take lightly. While mistakes happen, this one shouldn’t have, and the fact that it happened on my watch is something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my career.

So, to the Seely family, I apologize, and while I can’t take back what was printed in yesterday’s paper, I hope that if nothing else this column sets the record straight and helps make things right.