By: Jennifer Hoffman

The McGowan and Greto Families have been dealt a card that no family ever wants in their hands; a cancer diagnosis. The two local families will be participating in HEADstrong’s Running aHEAD of Cancer 5k in Swarthmore on September 22nd. Each with their own personal ties to the foundation and reason for making a team.

Mark McGowan never thought he would be participating in a 5k, “She always said she never wanted anyone to do a 5k run for her. That’s how she was, she didn’t want anyone to make a stink over her, I think it’s kinda funny. I was like nah let’s do it. “

Well they say to never say never, and that couldn’t be truer for the McGowan family from Springfield, PA. Mark and his two children, Kayleigh and Michael started #TeamReen! in honor of Mark’s late wife Maureen who lost her 2.5 year battle with colon cancer in June of 2018.

The Greto Family born and raised in Delaware County, had their life turned upside down in 2017 when their son Justis was terminally diagnosed with Grade IV GBM (Glioblastoma Multiforme) the most aggressive and life threatening form of brain cancer.

At only 15 years old, Justis had his whole life ahead of him, and his family was determined to make the best of the time that they had left with him and enjoy every moment. Justis fought long and hard but the cancer was far too aggressive and 3 ½ months after his diagnosis, he passed away on 5/11/17.

The Greto’s connection with HEADstrong started when the foundation sent Justis a comfort kit while he was in the hospital. “My wife Christen and I like what HEADstrong does. We didn’t want to just raise money for research. It actually helps real families, and relieves the burden for people when they are doing treatment. We try to support things that try to help families directly because we understand how devastating it can be emotionally and financially” said Mike.

The two families have more in common than just losing a loved one to cancer. Both Mark and Mike are music lovers and each play guitar and sing in their free time.  Throughout their loved ones battles with cancer, each of the men turned to music to help channel their emotions into song.

“I play guitar and sing in my free time. I wrote a cd for her, with six songs on it that I wrote towards the end of her fight” recalled Mark.

He put the mix tape out online, not thinking anything of it. One of the songs was picked up by a local radio station, 93.7 WSTW. The station does a Sunday night spot called “Hometown Heroes” and featured the song “Come Tell Me A Story” from his cd on the radio.

Mike Greto wrote a song called “You Became A Wave” in honor of his late son. “But where words fail, music speaks. This new song is directly related to the loss of my son and our family’s efforts to heal in the wake of this tragedy” said Mike.

It’s hard to make sense of why certain things happen to people, but one thing that did make sense was running this year’s 5k in honor of Justis and Maureen. “Her friends always wanted to do something for her. The first year we didn’t, then this came up and we’re like yeah let’s do it” said Mark.  The Swarthmore 5k just happens to be taking place on what would have been Justis’ 18th birthday. Mike said the family took it as a sign to make team Justis For All and participate in the event.

It’s not too late to sign up for the Swarthmore 5k, if you are interested in participating or making a donation to the HEADstrong Foundation to help families like the Greto’s or McGowan’s please visit www.headstrong.org/run.

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