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updated: 11/4/2013 10:20 AM

Leibel: 'I have survived cancer twice and it has never defined me'

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  • Tara Leibel, right, was inspired to take up running by her sister, Leslie Jones, and their dad, the late Reg Pennington.

      Tara Leibel, right, was inspired to take up running by her sister, Leslie Jones, and their dad, the late Reg Pennington.
    Courtesy of Tara Leibel

By Tara Leibel, 41, Plainfield

• Tara Leibel is running the Naperville marathon on behalf of the American Cancer Society.

Nearly nine years ago, I was inspired by my sister, Leslie, as she trained for her first marathon and began fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. Although I had never run before, I began training for my first marathon and became involved in fundraising for a cause very near and dear to our family.

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I have survived cancer twice and it has never defined me; it has become part of my story. A bigger part of my story is losing my dad to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. My sister and I tried so hard to make a difference and went on to raise thousands of dollars in hopes of finding a cure in time for my dad.

My family was the reason I survived a blood cancer nearly 26 years ago (Hodgkin's disease) and I was hoping to return the favor. Unfortunately, he did not survive, but many do because of the efforts of charities that support research and offer patient advocacy and treatment help.

After losing my dad, running was therapeutic. However, recently I learned that it (running) is the reason I continue to maintain my good health as I fight the long-term effects of high-dose radiation I received so many years ago.

While I have run many races since losing my dad, I decided now was the time to give back again and so I joined the American Cancer Society's DetermiNation team and have raised more than $1,200 for the ACS.

I have trained for the past two and a half months, running four to five times a week and often find myself still thinking of my dad, my own health and my family. I could not do this race or any race without the continued support and love of my husband, Chuck, and my three kids: Kate, Natalie and Charlie. They are my biggest fans.

I am excited for race day and will be proudly wearing my DetermiNation shirt with my dad's name and "SURVIVOR" written across the back. I am proud and I know my dad is, too.

More than 11 million Americans who have a history of cancer will celebrate another birthday this year. The American Cancer Society helps make that possible and I'm proud to be a part of its team.

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