LONGMEADOW, MA – When Longmeadow native Jill Cohen crosses the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15 it’ll not only be a huge accomplishment, but a moment filled with emotion. That’s because Cohen, 53, will be running her first Boston Marathon in honor of her late brother Jon, who passed away from cancer nine years ago.
Cohen, who now resides in Boston, said her brother was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in 1999 when he was just 31 years old. He enjoyed a successful career as a lawyer and was described by his sister as “insanely smart with a dry wit” and someone who “fiercely loved his family and friends.” The father of three children (Charlie, Mia, Nathaniel) and husband to his wife Suzanne, Jon’s cancer spread to his spine, liver, and lungs in August 2009. While he underwent both traditional and experimental treatments to battle the cancer, he ultimately passed away in April 2010.
Cohen noted that OM is rare, especially in someone so young as Jon, but it’s the most common cancer of the eye. She said Jon was initially diagnosed and treated at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, and his treatment included enucleation of his eye and one year of self-administered shots of interferon.
“These final days of his life were full of fear, sadness, hope, anger, frustration and love, along with an attempt to try to understand how so many families could be enduring a similar experience with their loved ones also being diagnosed with cancer,” Cohen wrote on her fundraising page. “I’m running to raise money that will go towards helping to treat and cure others with a similar diagnosis to Jon’s.”
Cohen told the Longmeadow News that it’s important for her to not only honor her brother but to increase awareness about OM and to raise money for research.
“When I was given this opportunity, it seemed to happen for a reason and I wanted to do it, though it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone,” Cohen said. “It’s hard to feel like I’m doing enough to prevent other families from going through what mine had to and what Jon had to endure, so I was attracted by this commitment to raise money, while creating visibility of ocular melanoma.”
While this is her first Boston Marathon, Cohen said training has been going pretty well despite the fact that she didn’t become aware of the opportunity to join Team Mass Eye and Ear until mid January, thus cutting her time to train way down.
“My biggest challenge has been time,” Cohen said. “I was a casual runner before my training started, so I’ve been trying to fit my training into a three-month period which isn’t ideal and doesn’t give me a lot of leeway. I haven’t had any serious injuries, but a little pain here and there, and I did have a little bug which set me back for a few days. Mass Eye and Ear has amazing resources, including coaches and team trainings and meetings. Both the coaches and people I’ve talked to who’ve run the Boston Marathon before say that it’s a very emotional experience, especially with the thousands of spectators cheering the runners. I anticipate that it will be the most challenging physical experience I have ever endured, and I know that it will be extremely emotional. I’m nervous and hopeful.”
As a member of the Mass Eye and Ear team, Cohen is committed to raising $8,000 through her fundraising page, www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/teameyeandear/jillcohen6, and as of publication time she was up to just over $5,000.
“I will continue to push until I reach my goal,” Cohen said. “As far as a time I’d like to achieve, I’m going to do the best I can. Frankly, if I can finish in under 5 hours, I’ll be thrilled, but I’m going into it just wanting to do the best I can and without hurting myself.
“Training for a marathon is a big commitment requiring a lot of time and focus, and it’s a challenge physically,” Cohen added. “I couldn’t be doing this without the support of my family and friends.”
One of those friends is Kathleen Keady, who tipped off the Longmeadow News about Cohen running in the marathon.
In an email Keady said “it’s amazing to witness (Cohen’s) determination and drive to complete the race” and then went on to describe her friend as “an incredible woman.”
Cohen said when she crosses the finish line on April 15 she will think about her brother and wish he was still around.
“It still just doesn’t feel right that he had to endure his illness,” Cohen said. “If he knew that I was running the Marathon I think he’d be shocked, but to know that I’m running in his honor would make him so proud and would really touch him. We were very close. It’s kind of the least I can do.”
– By Jeff Hanouille/Longmeadow News