WACO, Texas — The internet is truly a powerful thing. With the power of Instagram, four friends were able to connect and finally meet in person for the first time in Waco ahead of Sunday's Magnolia Silos District Marathon.
What brought them together, is something very few have in common.
Joel Stetler and Marisa Cogswell were both diagnosed with sarcoma years ago. Stetler was an avid runner, having already competed in a number of marathons before his diagnoses. He says he was inspired by his wife Amanda, and also wanted to send a message to anyone who ever doubted him.
"Before cancer I ran purely to just shove it in the face of my childhood bullies," Stetler told me. "Like yeah, I can do hard things."
Joel said he fell in love with the hype and preparation of running a marathon. But when he was uncertain about his future when he was told he had sarcoma, his biggest supporter gave him the courage to keep fighting and keep running.
"After treatment, after lung surgeries, after radiation and all the just the beating my body took from from the cancer treatments, she helped me climb out of that and find light and life on the other side," Joel told me as he looked towards his wife, Amanda.
"That day is definitely been the worst day of my life thus far, and I wouldn't go back to it," Amanda Stetler, Joel's wife and caregiver said. "But I also see how much we've grown from that through our cancer community through multiple organizations that have come alongside of us and that we've really been able to kind of link arm and arm with."
Amanda says her fondest memories running with her husband have come in NYC, the first time Joel finished a run with a PBR in hand and even today as they ran the 5K at the Silos together.
"Before, running marathons was just, oh, wow, this is kind of a big exciting event," Amanda told me. "Now it's like, look, we're gonna do something that, like there were days when I really didn't know if we could continue doing this together."
That's where there community started to grow. They got in touch with the people at Brave Like Gabe, Move for Jenn and others, and found that there were others struggling and fighting through cancer just like Joel.
One of them being Marisa Cogswell. She was diagnosed with sarcoma just 6 weeks after giving birth to her daughter.
"About six weeks after my daughter was born, you know, they give you a cancer diagnosis. You have to go through treatment, and now you're going to lose your leg and then you have a six week old daughter sitting right next to you and to say that I was scared would be an understatement," Cogswell told me, remembering the fateful day in 2017 when she was diagnosed. "I thought my daughter would grow up without a mother. I mean, that's just the first thing that pops into your head."
But Cogswell would not let any of that stop her. Since losing her leg and battling a rare cancer, she has made it her goal to end the stereotypes of amputees.
"We don't just park in the handicapped spots. We run, we're active we do things," Cogswell said. "I want that perception of, oh, you're disabled so you don't do anything gone because that's not the case anymore. It's just not."
That's where Lyla Kiel comes in. An event coordinator for Move For Jenn, an organization dedicated to supporting sarcoma amputees, she is an avid Instagram user and was a major part of getting these four in touch.
"I myself am not a cancer warrior, but my mom was um she was diagnosed with extraskeletal osteosarcoma, which is a really rare subtype of sarcoma, Kiel told me. "So I DM'd Jenn like 'hey, can I volunteer, I'll even answer emails I just wanna help.'"
That one DM turned into the start of a journey for Kiel that would introduce her to all kinds of people, all dealing with something so few have to deal with.
But she says meeting Amanda and Joel and Marisa in Waco this weekend has been extra special for her because of the bond they formed beforehand.
"Getting to know these people in person, it's, it's everything," Kiel said. "It's a heart opening, cup full, overflowing moment is what I would say."
So as the gang embraces one another and they prepare to embark on tomorrow's marathon, they laugh, they love, they joke and most importantly, they do it together.
Joel told me one of his favorite quotes that he's come across in his journey, and hopes other can take away the same message.
"If you're on the fence about opening up with other people and bringing other people in your team or into your story. I'd say that yeah, there's magic in misery but misery loves company, and we are better off in numbers."