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From Childhood Cancer Patient to Long-Distance Runner

Completing the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon is a moment Georgia Cleland will never forget.

“I keep my special medal on a shelf in my room with some other race weekend memorabilia, to remind me how incredible the experience was. I’ll cherish the memories for years to come.”

But decades before she reached that goal, Cleland was on a much darker path.

Devastating news

At the age of two, Cleland was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Her odds for survival were 50/50.

“When my parents found out, it was a very difficult and tough time, because all the treatment and medicine back in 1986 was not as refined as it is today,” explains Cleland, 34, who currently works for the Maryland chapter of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “Plus, a lot of the treatment the doctors gave me was very tough on my body.”

 Cleland was forced to undergo intensive chemotherapy and radiation.

“The doctors worked hard to help save my life, knowing it was going to be a long time to see a miracle. The most difficult time was when I had to be in the hospital, away from my family, and not knowing why exactly they couldn’t stay with me.”

Having a support system

Cleland credits her loved ones with helping her through the ordeal.

“My family has gone over and beyond since I was diagnosed with leukemia. They are wonderful, and we always show each other that no matter what obstacle may come, we will always be there for each other. The day I woke up from my last treatment, I remember seeing my mom’s smiling face. That assured me the worst was over.”

Cleland says going into remission two years later was a huge relief.

“I’m forever grateful and thankful to have shared that with friends and family.”

Running with a purpose

In 1988, Cleland’s father Bruce, a former rugby player, assembled a group to train and run the New York City Marathon for the first time, in honor of his daughter, to raise funds for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This was the first charity team to participate in an endurance sports event. To date, 30 years later, Team in Training (TNT) has raised more than $1.5 billion for blood cancer research and patient services.

“He heard and saw how leukemia and other blood cancers could affect young children my age. He felt he had to do something to help, and there had to be a way to get those cures.”

Years later, inspired by her dad, Cleland decided to lace up. After completing nine half-marathons, she spent 12 weeks training for her first 26.2 mile race, which she ran in January with a close friend.

“It felt so exciting and amazing. The moment I saw we were in the finish line chute and getting closer, I ran as fast as my heart could.  I burst into tears, because my dreams had come true.”

Never giving up

Cleland, who enjoys horseback riding, swimming, traveling and painting, wants other blood cancer patients to know that they are not alone. She encourages them to keep a positive attitude, and continue looking forward.

“No matter what, continue fighting and stay strong. There’s always hope. There will always be someone there for you to help save your life, and give you that confidence back.”

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