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When Marc Kuchler was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2011, his family and friends rallied around and decided to participate in the Free to Breathe 5K in Philadelphia.
Since that time, the team known as Miles for Marc has grown and Kuchler and his wife, Rachel, sought to make Miles for Marc a nonprofit, which it now is.
Kuchler, who was born and raised in Drexel Hill, was a graduate of Monsignor Bonner High School where he played baseball and ice hockey. He went on to earn a degree in architectural engineering from Drexel University.
“He was an avid hockey player,” said Kristine Sambuco, Kuchler’s sister. “He played for the Jr. Flyers, the Phantoms, the Hawks and probably just about every local hockey team. He even played in a semi-pro league after he graduated with the Trenton Titans (ECHL) for one game. That was pretty cool.”
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But when he was 28 years old, Kuchler was informed he had lung cancer – a shock to someone who was an avid non-smoker.
Kuchler went through chemotherapy, maintenance drugs, clinical trials, an upper-left lobectomy, immunotherapy, radiation and gamma-knife radiation.
Kuchler was never cancer-free, but the tumors did shrink.
“He had some really good times, too,” Sambuco said. “He managed to get married (to Rachel) in the second year of his diagnosis. He was maintenance mode at that point. When they got married, he was at a really good place at that point as far as treatment and feeling well.”
However, his body slowly became resistant to the different drugs and the cancer metastasized to his brain, bones and both lungs.
In February 2015, at just 31, Kuchler lost the battle and passed away.
That doesn’t stop his family from continuing his legacy with Miles for Marc.
Sambuco, a resident of West Chester, is just one of the cogs which keeps Miles for Marc going, including in the 5K in Philadelphia.
At the first 5K, the team was relatively small, made up of close friends and family.
“There was maybe 18 or 20 of us family members who were there,” Sambuco said. “We quickly got T-shirts made up. The following year, he and Rachel started brainstorming to make this big and go far.”
Miles for Marc’s colors are orange and black for Marc’s favorite hockey team, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Now celebrating its 10th year, the Philadelphia Free to Breathe 5K was held Sunday, where Miles for Marc had a team of about 200 people participate.
The walk also coincided with the first day of Lung Cancer Awareness month.
“This is the fourth year now and we have over 200 participants again,” Sambuco said. “Each year for the last three years, our team individually raised over $30,000.”
Combining all the years together, Miles for Marc has raised over $100,000 for Free to Breathe, whose mission is to ensure surviving lung cancer is the expectation and not the exception and its vision is to double lung cancer survival by 2022.
“Free to Breathe helped fund different medications Marc was getting and helped fund the surgery that he ended up having,” Sambuco said. “They were an integral part in him getting certain therapies and the clinical trials, along with the doctors at Penn, of course.”
Now that Miles for Marc just became a nonprofit over the summer, the organization plans to do more than just the Free to Breathe 5K, although that will still be a huge part of it.
“We will continue to fundraise throughout the entire year,” Sambuco said. “The main mission of it is to increase awareness and funding for the genetic research and to identify targeted therapy and, more specifically, for his mutation, which was EGFR Exon 20. We will always donate to charitable organizations, like Free to Breathe.”
Miles for Marc continues to grow and to reach people, even total strangers, and have them join the team – something that Kuchler would be proud of.
“The good bulk of it is the huge network of our friends and family,” Sambuco said. “Rachel and Marc had tons of friends and that was the way that he was. Anybody that Marc and Rachel ever encountered, they were immediately friends with them. They just had this thing about them that just attracted people. In his honor, we’re going to continue to do that.”