There is a saying that ‘timing is everything’ in life. It was through a seemingly innocuous marathon lottery that Stacey Homler learned there is truth to this old adage. For the New Jersey resident and distance runner, the New York City Marathon was her ultimate goal race. Three years in a row, she put her name into the race lottery. Three years in a row, she was disappointed when she failed to be chosen for the race. Not one to give up easily, however, she put in once again for the 2016 race lottery. This time around, as she and her family faced illness and tragedy, she forgot she had even entered the marathon lottery. Ultimately, it turned out that for Stacey, the fourth time was the charm. The New York City Marathon is no longer just another race, however. Now, it is something much more personal and meaningful.
Stacey’s mother, Marilyn Bonin, was a spunky and energetic woman who sold roofing and siding products for 30 years. Stacey says, “She was one of the only women in the industry in New Jersey. When she was 74, the company she worked for forced her to retire. She did not want to retire. She loved working!” Fortunately for Marilyn and her customers, another company hired her immediately. “She was like everyone’s mother,” Stacey adds. “She would bring water and coffee to the workers at their job sites!”
Marilyn had always been perfectly healthy, until she noticed she had enlarged lymph nodes. Her general practitioner was not sure what was causing the swollen nodes, but he administered an antibiotic in hopes it would clear up any possible infection in Marilyn’s body. When the medication failed to cure her and her lymph nodes continued to grow larger, Marilyn’s doctor performed a biopsy. The results showed that she had cancer, but further scans could not determine where her primary tumor had originated. Puzzled, her medical team ordered testing on the tumor tissue and found that it was ‘most consistent with pancreatic cancer’.
For the next four years, Marilyn had chemotherapy three out of four weeks each month. Her oncologist feared letting her take a break from treatment because he knew that pancreatic cancer is a particularly aggressive form of cancer. Any time away from the treatment and her cancer could spread quickly throughout her body.
While the chemotherapy was keeping the spread of her cancer at bay, it was also very tough on Marilyn’s body. Eventually, she developed both the flu and pneumonia. The feisty 80-year-old, who still lived by herself and worked full-time, was hospitalized for a week. Though she fought hard to regain her health and return home, she was not strong enough to go up her stairs. Marilyn went to a rehabilitation facility to improve her strength, but eventually ended up in Intensive Care and ultimately, hospice. She passed away in February, 2016.
Marilyn Bonin: Mom and Grandmother
Marilyn fulfilled numerous roles in Stacey’s life. When Stacey was just 9 years old, her father passed away from lymphoma. From that day forward, Marilyn raised Stacey and her brother on her own. Though Stacey missed her father, Marilyn did all she could to provide everything her children needed. Stacey explains, “She was a single mom who raised two well-adjusted and productive children. She is truly my role model.”
While Marilyn was both a pioneer in a male-dominated industry and a stellar single mother, Stacey most fondly remembers her for being an incredible grandmother to her four grandkids. “We all lived in the same town,” Stacey explains. “She said she would never leave this area because of her grandkids. She went to every one of their events, and if there was even an insignificant event that came up, she would get mad at me if I did not tell her about it!”
Stacey Starts Running
Stacey dabbled in sports as a teenager, but never really found something she loved. She took up running several years ago when she joined a lunchtime running group at work. She made friends in the running group and went on to complete several 5 and 10 K races.
The married mother of two found that after she turned 40, it became more difficult to lose weight and stay in shape. She decided to challenge herself by training for a half-marathon. Once she completed that distance, a friend who ran for the Lymphoma Society encouraged Stacey to run a marathon with her. Stacey thought to herself, ‘Why not?’
Stacey Attempts the Marathon Distance
Four years ago, she completed her first marathon, the New Jersey Marathon, and emphatically stated that she would never do another one again. Of course, the next year she trained for and ran the New Jersey Marathon again. During that time, she repeatedly put her name in for the New York City Marathon. As the years went on and she was not selected, she gave up hope and thought she would never get in. Nevertheless, she put her name in for the fourth time. As her mother fought for her life, running a marathon became the furthest thing from Stacey’s mind.
From November of 2015 until February of 2016, her primary focus in life was caring for her mom while she battled pancreatic cancer. “I let myself go during that time,” Stacey says. “I ate through the stress. I forgot I had put my name in the lottery.” When Stacey saw friends of hers posting that they had been chosen for entry into the marathon, she looked at her credit card statement. Sure enough, her card had been charged. She was officially entered into her dream race.
Getting Back Into Running
At the time, rather than being excited, the prospect of running a marathon seemed daunting to Stacey. She had not run in several months and she needed to lose 20 lbs. “I took it as a sign that my mom was saying, ‘get back to your life and get back to doing what you love’.” Stacey found pancreatic cancer charity Project Purple, and she knew she wanted to join their New York City Marathon team.
Stacey started running before 5 am, using a headlamp to provide light. She loves the solitude of running alone in the early morning hours. The quiet allows her time to think about her mother, and her son, who is headed off to college. After several months of putting in those early morning miles, Stacey’s clothes fit better and she feels physically and emotionally healthier.
While she could not imagine being able to run a marathon just a few short months ago, now Stacey runs with a sense of purpose. Running for Project Purple provides Stacey with a meaningful experience and sense of connection as she trains for her upcoming marathon. “My mom was my mother, my father and my best friend from the time I was 9 years old. I truly feel that I am doing this for her. Knowing that is what keeps me going every day.”
Please make a donation to Stacey’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following Crowdrise link: