IMG_0581.JPGA year ago, Marina Gavriel was confined to a hospital bed, unable to get up without the help of nurses. She had just been through a major surgery as part of her treatment for stage IIA breast cancer. Her battle with cancer was just beginning.

Today, Marina is preparing to train for the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon as part of Team Imerman Angels – a feat that is especially remarkable considering she has never run a marathon in her life and has never been a regular runner.

“I am very excited to be a part of Team Imerman Angels. And I have faith in the power of our Imerman Angels community, who I know will help power me through it,” she says.

Marina was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2015. She was first introduced to Imerman Angels by a social worker at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and registered for a Mentor Angel in March. Her connection to the organization was strengthened further when she met founder Jonny Imerman and staff member Vanessa Villagomez.

“Their energy and friendly demeanor inspired me to become a volunteer,” she says.

Following surgery, Marina went through chemotherapy and radiation. She did her first volunteer activity for Imerman Angels at the Imerman Angels Brunch Run  5K & Walk in July after she had just started chemotherapy. And her stint as a volunteer did not end there. Marina has continued to volunteer with Imerman Angels, and is currently an outreach Ambassador for Chicago, with plans to expand her activities in Europe and to Greek-speaking populations worldwide. She derives a strong sense of satisfaction every time she observes the difference her involvement makes in the lives of cancer fighters and their caregivers.

“I feel very rewarded after a conversation with a fighter or caregiver in which I finish their sentences, because they truly feel understood. The smile of relief or recognition they give me after they tell their story and I disclose that I am a survivor tells me I am doing something worthwhile. When they look at me, they see this person who is full of energy. It is not the grim image of a breast cancer fighter and survivor they expect, and that helps to give them hope they can get through it as well,” she says.

Marina’s treatment ended Christmas Eve of 2015, and she has no evidence of disease now. She feels renewed determination to tackle the tasks she put on hold during her battle with cancer. Perhaps most strikingly, she has stronger clarity and a renewed sense of purpose for her life.

“Going through cancer and coming out on the other side made me keenly aware of our resilience as human beings physically, mentally and spiritually. I also have a much deeper appreciation for community, and I have learned that it is imperative to ask for help sometimes,” she says.

And this appreciation of community is part of what motivated Marina to run the Chicago Marathon as part of Team Imerman Angels. She wanted to join the team in some way, and give back to the organization that has given so much to her. Marina also felt reassured that Team Imerman Angels offers a training program with a previously tested training regimen. A commitment to take her life back helped finalize Marina’s decision.

“As someone who spent a year being physically compromised, I want to reclaim my physical strength. Last year, I was challenged by cancer and a handful of other life crises. This year, I am challenging myself positively by running,” she says.

Interested in running alongside Marina and her teammates as they strive to reach their goal of creating over 2,000 matches? Join the largest Team Imerman Angels ever for the Chicago Marathon to help celebrate 10 years of one-on-one cancer support and raise critical funds for more matches.