DMU alumnus, student run marathon to fight cancer

People run for a number of reasons – to get and stay in shape, relieve stress or take a break from daily life, to name a few. Jeff Nichols, a 1990 DMU osteopathic graduate, and Emily Morse, a third-year osteopathic student, run for another reason: to raise money for cancer research and survivor support programs.

They would like your help in this important race: This summer, Morse, Nichols, his wife, Madonna, and their son, Jimmy, will be among the cancer supporters and survivors running 160 marathons in the first-ever 4,000-mile Million Dollar Marathon: Coast to Coast for Cancer. In the event, which will begin June 21 in Ocean Shores, WA, teams of four will run 26.2 miles each. The marathon route will pass through 15 states and 500 communities, including Des Moines on July 15.

Each runner has a goal of raising $7,500 to support cancer research via Above + Beyond Cancer, the event organizer and a public charity established in 2011 to elevate the lives of those touched by cancer.

Jeffrey J. Nichols, D.O.'90
Jeffrey J. Nichols, D.O.’90, and wife, Madonna on Mount Kilimanjaro.   Photo: John Richard

“This is a great cause and one that’s very important to us,” says Nichols, an anesthesiologist at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines. For he and Madonna, a breast cancer survivor, the event will be their first-ever marathon but not their first experience with the cause: In 2012, they joined an Above + Beyond Cancer group of survivors and supporters to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. At the top, they conducted the highest-altitude Relay for Life in history to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Now many members of that Kilimanjaro group are helping the Nicholses train for their marathon, which they’ll run in Oregon. “They know how to train and are very motivated,” Jeff Nichols says. “There are people older than us doing this. They’ve been inspirational.”

Morse was inspired to participate in the Million Dollar Marathon after serving as co-planner of a cancer conference at DMU last year. Speakers at the event included founder and chair of Above + Beyond Cancer, Richard Deming, M.D., medical director at Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines. Morse’s clinical experiences influenced her as well.

Emily E. Morse, D.O.'14
Emily E. Morse, D.O.’14

“My position as a third-year medical student has allowed me to be present as several individuals’ lives were changed by a cancer diagnosis. In those moments I felt helpless, yet inspired by the courage with which this news was received,” she stated on the Million Dollar Marathon website. “I don’t want to feel helpless anymore. The opportunity to step up and contribute to this fight was one I couldn’t pass up.”

Morse compares fighting cancer to running a marathon, both difficult experiences that provide important life lessons and, once achieved, a sense of accomplishment.

“To a lot of people, it seems impossible to do, but a lot of the [Million Dollar Marathon] runners haven’t done one before. It’s not unattainable,” she says. She notes on the event’s website, “I now run to honor those known and unknown to me who have fought this fight [against cancer]. For those near and dear to me who have or will someday face this battle, whose strength, which far outweighs by own, will carry me across the miles.”

To join Morse and the Nichols family in this fight against cancer, you can donate to their Million Dollar Marathon fundraising goals through Aug. 15 by visiting their Coast to Coast for Cancer sites here and here.

“It isn’t every day you have the chance to be part of something truly extraordinary,” Morse states.

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