Facing Cancer in Strides

The story of two women who run to end cancer

Several months ago Leah Backo and Michelle Thomas contacted The Gathering Place, on separate occasions, about starting fundraising campaigns to support our free programs and services. While Leah and Michelle had never met, both women have been deeply touched by cancer and found The Gathering Place to be a great resource to their family as they coped with cancer diagnoses in each of their families. Both Leah and Michelle, now running buddies, are training for separate marathon races to honor their families and to raise money for The Gathering Place. Leah will be running the Cleveland Marathon May 15th, 2016 and her fundraising page can be accessed here. Michelle will be running the Akron Marathon and her fundraising page is here.

Leah was 12 years old when her mother was first diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. For half of her life, Leah has watched as her mother underwent multiple treatments and surgeries while raising a family and remaining “the least selfish person in the world.” When Leah decided to train for the Cleveland Marathon, she wanted to find a way to honor her mother. She thought of The Gathering Place and the many ways the organization has supported her mother over the last 12 years and decided “what better organization than one that helped my mom so much.”

Michelle couldn’t agree more. “The Gathering Place isn’t just for someone with cancer. It is a place, locally, that supports the community.” Having lost both of her parents to cancer within several years of each other, Michelle explained, “I don’t know one person who hasn’t been touched by cancer.” She understands the need to have a place like The Gathering Place available to anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis.

Through their fundraising efforts and training, Leah and Michelle have become friends and training partners, encouraging each other during challenging runs and sharing new recipes to stay energized during long workouts. For both of them, running is a meditative, healing practice; running is a time to reflect and process emotions. Whether they are out in the MetroParks after work or hitting the pavement before sunrise, Leah and Michelle look forward to their running time each day to decompress and get in some much needed solo time.

While always athletic, Michelle didn’t start to pursue running seriously until her mom became sick. Still living in Chicago at the time of her mother’s diagnosis, Michelle would drive home to Cleveland every weekend, logging hours and hundreds of miles in the car. Running was a way to relieve the stress of traveling while caring for her mother long-distance. She continued to run when she moved back to Cleveland where she found an outlet, a community of support, while she cared for her step-father. When her step-father passed away last fall, Michelle decided she wanted to give back to the community who has supported her and her family during the loss of both of her parents. Through running, Michelle plans on fundraising for cancer organizations across Northeast Ohio. After losing both of her parents, running has helped Michelle cope, “I didn’t know I needed it, but it was healing; it was closure.” And with each training and fundraising goal Michelle sets, she thinks of her parents. “In every run I do, they’re there; my strides are with them.”

Both Leah and Michelle describe themselves as private and reserved when it comes to sharing personal information, especially on social media. However, both Leah and Michelle have stepped outside of their comfort zones by sharing their very personal stories on their blogs and through social media posts to raise awareness about how cancer has touched their lives and ways family and friends can support them. For Leah, her self-described “crazy, supportive family” has helped spread awareness about her training and fundraising campaign. She is overwhelmed by the positive response from friends, family, and coworkers. She has even received positive messages from strangers on social media through the different hashtags she uses. Michelle seconds this thought. She has seen a huge outreach from friends and family who didn’t know the specifics of her parents’ cancer diagnoses. While training for a full marathon and fundraising requires a tremendous amount of work on top of keeping up with their day jobs, both Leah and Michelle agree training for a marathon while fundraising for The Gathering Place in honor of their loved ones is truly a rewarding experience.

To follow Leah and Michelle’s stories, check out their blogs which contain updates on training, healthy, delicious recipes, and more. The Gathering Place is incredibly honored to be named a beneficiary by these two amazing women.Thank you Leah and Michelle!

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The Gathering Place's funding comes from individuals, families, organizations, foundations and corporations, through our Tribute program, Annual Fund, Special Events and TGP Warehouse sales. We are a qualified 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable organization.
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