What is cancer?

The Google definition is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue.

And it kills 163 out of 100,000 men and women every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

One of the victims cancer claimed in 2016 was Myrtle Engle, the grandmother of former Caledonia resident Anna Balch.

“My grandma was my biggest inspiration,” Balch said. “She was always there for me no matter what and I always looked forward to her phone calls to chat about whatever issues I was facing.”

Engle, who lived in Allentown, Pa. her entire life, was diagnosed with breast cancer and was initially thought to have beat it. But the disease came back stronger than ever and she passed away with her granddaughter by her side.

Balch lived in Evanston, Ill. until she graduated from Evanston Township High School, then her family moved to Caledonia in 2013. From there, Balch decided that she wanted to attend Denison University in Ohio to play softball after being named All-State in high school.

At Denison, she realized that she aspired to help people as much as possible, whether it be through volunteering or raising money through fundraisers for a good cause.

“ ‘Go run,’ “ Balch recalls Engle telling her. “I kind of took that advice literally and now I’m doing a run across the United States for the second year in a row with a team of people; it’s crazy but it’s for a great cause.”

The 24-year-old Balch heard about the Ulman 4K for Cancer run from her college softball teammate, and knew she wanted to give it a shot. Her grandmother telling her to run gave her all the motivation.

The 4K for Cancer, which marks its 18th year in 2019, sends runners on journeys across the country in an effort to inspire hope in the fight against cancer. The 4K for Cancer is a program of the Ulman Foundation.

The run Balch is participating in spans from San Francisco to Boston (more than 4,000 miles), but she won’t be doing all of the work. Balch is on a team of 32 runners who will take shifts running during their eight-week trip. The team is scheduled to leave June 16 and, if all goes as planned, will arrive in Boston on Aug. 3.

“Since I did it last year, I know what to expect,” Balch said. “I hurt my Achilles running last time and didn’t know if I was going to make it, but a run like this is all about toughing out the pain.”

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Another person Balch is running for is one of her former coworkers at Denison University, Sally Schooler. Balch was training for the run with Schooler last year, when Schooler was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away.

“I’ve never seen someone smile as much as she did,” Balch said. “She always had the most positive attitude, even when she was fighting cancer. She told me she was going to beat it and her positive attitude is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.”

According to race director Rebecca Eddy, each runner has to raise a minimum of $4,500 to participate in the eight-week adventure.

“Each runner has until Sept. 1 to reach that mark,” Eddy said. “But, we usually encourage them to get it done before the race so that they don’t have to worry about it once it’s over.”

Balch’s goal is to raise $5,000 and she’s already one-fifth of the way there thanks to her father, Prescott Balch, who donated $1,000 to his daughter’s fundraiser.

“My daughter makes me supremely proud,” Prescott said. “She is an extreme altruist. Instead of attending to her own economic needs, getting a “real” job, climbing a corporate ladder, chasing raises and promotions, she finished college and volunteered in a Rio Favela.

“Then she ran across the country to raise money for cancer research. She went to Mexico to work for a non-profit home for kids. And as if that wasn’t a lifetime’s worth of altruism, she is running across the country again to raise more money for cancer research, before going back to Mexico to continue working there in the home for kids. A father couldn’t ask for a better kid.”

Balch’s resiliency and hard work ethic has come into play in more ways than one. She graduated from Denison in 2017 with a degree in Spanish and she’s currently working in Tapachula, Mexico as a Youth Transition Program Coordinator for Mission Mexico. But Balch said she originally didn’t know what she wanted to do with her degree.

“I was lost for awhile,” Balch said. “I wanted to go to school and become a doctor, but things changed and I eventually found myself where I am now by traveling, and I couldn’t be happier.

“I’m teaching kids ages 14-18 about independent living,” Balch said. “I live in a house with three girls and I feel like this is a great way to give back, by teaching others about the ways of life.”

So why does Balch want to run again in 2019?

“I want to run 4,000 miles again this summer because for me, one summer just wasn’t enough. One summer wasn’t enough to honor all the people I know or have met who have been affected by cancer,” Balch said. “I want another chance to give back to the communities we pass through and another chance to raise funds for young adults with cancer. This disease has touched the lives of so many people I know and while I may never be able fix that, I want to at least do my best to show my support.”

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