Michele Haines will be participating in the Columbus Marathon for the first time since 2017, where she has also been selected to receive the Lashutka Spirit Award. (Photo by Jessica McNeal/JessLynn Life Photography)
Michele Haines will be participating in the Columbus Marathon for the first time since 2017, where she has also been selected to receive the Lashutka Spirit Award. (Photo by Jessica McNeal/JessLynn Life Photography)
The 40th annual Columbus Marathon will be held this Sunday, Oct. 20, and for one Highland County woman, the race is particularly meaningful. Not only will Michele Haines be participating in the event for the first time since 2017, but she has been selected as one of just 11 runners to receive the Lashutka Spirit Award.

This will be Michele’s sixth time participating in the Columbus Half Marathon, dating back to 2007, and she also ran in the Marathon for the first time in 2017. Running is something she said she's enjoyed both as an individual and with her husband, whom she calls her "biggest fan and encourager." But competing in the 13.1-mile event in 2019 is nothing short of a miracle for Michele, who was sidelined by a lung cancer diagnosis last year.

Michele is a nuclear medicine technologist at Adena Regional Medical Center, and her husband, Jarrod, is an intervention specialist at McClain High School as well as the head coach of the high school girls basketball and girls golf teams. They are the parents of two young children, Ezra, 6, and Libby, 4. Michele described herself as a lifelong athlete who’s been an active runner since she was in college.

 


“I have been an athlete my entire life,” Michele said. “Growing up with four brothers, there really wasn't another option. I started running in college with my softball coach, David Pyles. He was a marathon runner and would invite us to go out for a run after we finished practice every day. I just never really stopped.”

It was actually after competing in the Columbus Marathon in 2017 that Michele began noticing some alarming symptoms.

“She ran her first full marathon in October of 2017,” Jarrod said. “After training very hard, she struggled to finish the last several miles. Two months later, after continuing to cough up blood, we decided it would be a good idea to see what was going on.”

The healthy, active runner said that she and her family and even her physicians were “shocked” when Michele was diagnosed with cancer in the right upper lobe of her lung.

“I had developed a persistent cough in early January [2018], just a couple of months after finishing my full marathon,” Michele said. “In March, my cough got much worse, and I even started coughing up blood. I never had a fever, and I never really felt bad. I was still running a lot. 

“Finally, the fatigue caught up with me, and I went to see Michelle Thompson, CNP. She ordered a chest X-ray, which showed I had significant pneumonia. A week later, after being on medication and resting, I was actually feeling worse. She then ordered a CAT scan of my chest. That's when we found out that I not only had pneumonia, but also a mass in my right upper lobe.”

Michele was admitted to Adena, where she said doctors “performed a bronchoscope and biopsied the mass.”

“Four days later, it was confirmed that I had squamous cell carcinoma of the lung,” Michele said. “We were all shocked. The physicians and my care team were just as shocked as my family. Because I was so young and basically zero risk factors for this diagnosis, my pulmonologist sent me to the James Cancer Center for my treatment plan.”

According to Jarrod, within 10 days of her diagnosis, Michele underwent an upper right lobotomy. Michele said it was “truly an act of God” that she was diagnosed and underwent the operation in such a short period of time.

“It all happened so quickly, it was truly an act of God,” Michele said. “I had so many people praying for me. Our dear friend, Chad Hodson, had been diagnosed six months before me with lung cancer as well. We quickly turned to him and his wife for advice.

“Fortunately, we were able to get in with his oncologist that same week. I had to go through numerous tests and another biopsy before we had an actual game plan.”

After the surgery, Michele said doctors determined that she had a tennis ball-sized tumor in her lung that contained three different types of cancer: squamous cell, spindle cell and adenocarcinoma. She then had to endure 12 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a yearlong treatment plan of immunotherapy, which she just finished in September.

“I am now a surveillance patient, praising the Lord every day that I am cancer-free,” Michele said. “I will be scanned the rest of my life, and I'm OK with that. The further we get away from my diagnosis date, the less often I will have to be scanned. Each year will be a milestone and celebration.”
In addition to battling cancer and enduring that lengthy treatment, Michele battled through the pain as she began working toward her goal to run again.

“When I was finally able to start exercising again, it was difficult,” she said. “I struggled a lot at the beginning, especially with my breathing and chest pain. I started feeling stronger and stronger each time I went out.”

Michele, who relied on her faith in God throughout her illness, said she has also used her running as “a time of focus and prayer” — although, as her husband pointed out, she is always thinking of others.

“I don't have any distractions while I'm running,” Michele said. “I can use that time to be with the Lord and pray about a lot of situations and people in my life. I often go out for a run with specific people on my heart and mind.”

Along with her faith, Michele has also had the support of the Greenfield and surrounding community throughout her treatment. In August 2018 — just a few months after her surgery — her friends hosted a 5K event in Michele’s honor, and she knew she wanted to run.

“That was my first running goal, to finish that without stopping,” Michele said. “The Lord gave me the strength and sustained me through that race. It was a day I will treasure forever.  

“Our community is second to none. I can't even begin to count the blessings that have been poured out on my family and me. We are forever grateful for the love and prayers from our wonderful community. It has been a real humbling experience. I have always had an appreciation for where I come from, but this has given me an even greater appreciation.”

Jarrod agreed, saying the “entire county” has supported Michele during this journey.

“We would like to thank Highland County for the support we received over the past year and a half,” Jarrod said. “We knew we would not fight this alone, but to have an entire county behind us is comforting."

Now, two years after running her first marathon and 17 months from her initial diagnosis, Michele is ready for her first “big run” since successfully beating cancer. She said she is looking forward to what she calls a “special” marathon, as the event raises funds for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“The atmosphere and cause keep bringing me back,” Michele said. “There is a patient champion at each mile to high-five the runners as we pass. These patients have been treated at Children’s, and we get to celebrate their strength and bravery. It's a pretty special event.”

The event will be made even more special with the recipients of the Lashutka Spirit Award being recognized at the Expo at the Columbus Convention Center this weekend. According to the Columbus Marathon website (https://www.columbusmarathon.com), the award “honors former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, who helped launch the Columbus Marathon in 1980.”

“The Lashutka Spirit Award is a way for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon and 1/2 Marathon to recognize individuals who inspire and embody perseverance and strength,” Darris Blackford, Race Director, said on the Columbus Marathon website. “They are a testament to our sport and this event, and it’s always an incredible privilege to celebrate them and their accomplishments.”

Other recipients this year include individuals who have overcome illnesses, injuries and addiction; an organ donor; and organizers of an initiative for Special Olympics athletes. Michele said she was “honored” to be selected for the award.

“I was completely shocked and pleasantly surprised,” Michele said. “I honestly had no idea it existed. After reading about it and knowing what it represents, I feel extremely honored.”

Jarrod said he happened to read about the Lashutka Spirit Award on Facebook and submitted a nomination for Michele, who he said was “one of hundreds nominated for the award” this year. Jarrod said that upon learning of the award, he immediately knew his wife “fit the description” of the award.

“I remember after her surgery and her first follow-up with the surgeon, she looked at our surgeon and told him that she would run in a marathon again,” Jarrod said. “Instead of displaying a bad attitude or being down in the dumps, Michele hung on to the slogan ‘Our God is Bigger than Cancer.’ She fought tooth and nail every single appointment and treatment, with one goal in mind: to beat this disease and run in a marathon again.

“She never complained or thought of herself. She was continuously serving others.”

Michele credited God with giving her that “perseverance and strength,” quoting Romans 5:3-5: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."     

“Perseverance and strength is something we have gained over the last year and a half,” Michele said. “I know God didn't give me cancer, but He wasn't surprised by my diagnosis, either. Through it all, I am thankful for the scars and all that came with them. He can use these terrible situations to grow us closer together and closer to Him. 

“My prayer is that through this suffering, He can use me to bring many others closer to Him too. Our God is bigger than this awful disease. He has already won this battle. Our hope is in Jesus, and He will get me through this race.”

Jarrod said that Michele has inspired him, and others, to run alongside her this weekend at the marathon.

“Michele has been a true inspiration for those that have trouble facing their fears,” Jarrod said. “Thanks to her resilience, I will be running by her side, along with a few others that will be completing their first marathon.”  

And as for Michele? She’s already looking forward to next year — when she plans to run all 26.2 miles of the Columbus Marathon.