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Since her mother died of cancer in June, Susan Sevra has visited the cemetery every day to water flowers around her grave and remember the woman who was not only her parent, but her best friend.
Mrs. Sevra hopes other people will remember her mother, Shirley Thomson, who lived in Northwood, and be inspired to fight the disease that took her away at age 72. That's why she contacted Road of Life, a nonprofit organization based in Columbus that aims to raise awareness about cancer.
Through the new group's Bicentennial Walk program, Mrs. Sevra and more than a dozen other Toledo-area residents were able to dedicate one mile of the 312-mile walk to honor a loved one who battled cancer.
“I wanted to do something special for my mom,” Mrs. Sevra of Perrysburg, said. “I want to do what I can to encourage cancer research, so other patients don't have to go through what my mom went through.”
Rob Emrich, who founded Road of Life about a year ago, will begin walking today from Cincinnati to Cleveland. He will walk an average of 18 miles each day until Sept. 20, when he is scheduled to reach Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Ohio Bicentennial Commission is helping to sponsor the walk, which passes through 13 counties.
“We're trying to highlight cancer as a social issue in Ohio,” Mr. Emrich said. “One big thing we want to do this year is to stress fitness as a means of cancer prevention.”
As Mr. Emrich walks through the state, staying overnight at universities, donated hotel rooms, or the homes of friends, other Road of Life representatives will hold health fairs at six universities along the route.
Although Toledo is not on the Bicentennial Walk path, Toledo residents are participating in the mile dedication program. Road of Life lists all mile dedications on its web site, www.roadoflife.org, and is working with the governor's office to get an official commendation of the dedicated miles.
More than 200 people signed up for the free mile dedication program. Of those who submitted their addresses, almost 20 percent are from northwest Ohio, Mr. Emrich said.
“For some reason, we had a ton of responses from Toledo,” he said.
Mr. Emrich, 24, founded Road of Life in honor of his younger sister, Keren Rebecca, who died when he was in elementary school. His sister's death stayed with him, and when another relative got cancer about two years ago, he decided to take action.
“I saw a lot of people around me giving up on beating cancer. They viewed it as a death sentence,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do something.”
He sold his car and a few stocks to raise $5,000, just enough to get Road of Life off the ground. The group designs education programs and is developing methods to raise money for cancer research.
Mrs. Sevra discovered the organization through a support group for cancer survivors. She donated money to Road of Life, so she received a certificate noting that a mile of the Bicentennial Walk was dedicated to her mother.
“I'm trying to keep my mom's memory alive as long as I can,” she said.