Nana’s Story


Running for Nana began as a way to celebrate our beautiful Nana and fight back against C. difficile, the infection that ultimately took her life. She will always be the reason I’m running, and I’d love to share a bit about her with you.

The beautiful woman you see in the photo is my Nana (Joan) – this photo was taken in August 2014 on her 83rd birthday.

She grew up in the Great Depression on a small farm in Minerva, OH, where she lived with her mom, brother and grandfather. They lived without electricity until she was 6 and without indoor plumbing until after she graduated high school. Her grandfather was her hero and best friend. I think their relationship was a big part of why she wanted to be close to her own grandkids – my sister Abbe and myself.

38 - 1996 Nana, A, E - Funny

Shortly before Abbe was born, she packed up her life and bravely moved to Colorado from Ohio. Joan became “Nana” and our closest friend and companion. She took care of us while our parents were at work, and if you asked her, she’d tell you this was “the BEST job” she ever had. Through phone calls, sleepovers at her house, and a myriad of concerts, holidays, and events, we had the immense privilege to spend almost every day with her in some way.

19q - 2013 Wedding - Emily, Kim, Tom, Abbe, Aaron and Nana

She and our mom, Kim, were the best of friends, and she always wanted to be wherever “her girls” were. When Abbe and I went to college in Minnesota, she learned how to text, email, and work the computer (and an iPad!) to keep in touch, and made several trips to Minnesota as well. She kept up with her friends and family through frequent phone calls, letters, weekly hair appointments, and lunch dates. She enjoyed watching musicals, mystery shows, and Lawrence Welk, and was an avid lover of sports cars.

14 - 1970's Joan's Fiat 3 - Best

In January 2015, Nana was diagnosed with lung cancer. She began chemo and (later) radiation at the age of 83 – she wasn’t about to let cancer get in her way. The treatment and side effects were very physically and mentally challenging, but yet she was never too tired to chat about life or make time for a good movie.

In May 2015, in the midst of her cancer treatment, she contracted the C. difficile infection, which causes symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. In the year 2011, almost half a million people were diagnosed with C. diff, and it was associated with 29,000 deaths in that year alone.

Over the next three months, Nana showed immense strength and courage as she rallied time and again to beat this awful infection. After an incredible fight, we lost our beautiful Nana on August 17, 2015.

31 - 1995 -08 Funny Nana, Ab and Em

She spent her life caring for the people that she loved, and in so doing, taught us how to love one other.  It’s with immense gratitude that we miss her everyday, knowing that we will always learn new lessons from her stories, laughter, and life.

In early 2015, after telling her that I felt like I was waiting for my life to begin, Nana looked at me, shook her head and said, “You can’t wait”. I’ve been hitting the road to take her advice ever since.

Here’s to you, Nan – I love you more!

120b -  156

25 thoughts on “Nana’s Story

  1. Candace Maley

    What a wonderful tribute to your dear grandmother, Emily. We are excited for you and wish you great success with the marathon. Best of luck with your training, and please keep us in the loop regarding how things are going.


  2. Nancy Gebhard

    Congratulations Emily – what a wonderful way to honor your beloved grandmother. We will follow your journey and will be thinking of you every step of the way. Good luck and keep us posted!


  3. Emily this is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman. I am sure Nana is looking down and bragging to everyone above about what you are working toward. We are excited to follow your journey and will be praying and cheering you on from Ohio. Please keep us posted.


    1. Les, you know Nana so well! It brought a big smile to my face to read this – you know how much she loved to tell people about her girls. I can’t tell you how much the support means to me. Hugs to you!


  4. Donald Haines

    Emily, what a great way to honor Aunt Joan. Thanks for bringing awareness about C. Diff. I will be cheering you on as you help others.


  5. Lydia Kerr

    Emily! Thank you for sharing your brave journey with us & the wonderful stories of your beautiful Nana! She had such a fantastic genuine spirit about her! One of the last times I spoke with her was at the Open World Learning gala where they were honoring your Mom, Kim. I said to her, “What an amazing family you have raised.” She said, “oh no, I am the lucky one to have them in my life.” She loved you all so… I look forward to reading about your adventure! This is a big one!
    Also, I will email you about a company that my friend works for called: -They have a robot technology using pulsed UV light, that helps to combat infections including C Diff, it is quite amazing & they were nice enough to come and cleanse my Operating Room as I had my cancer battle last year. Someday this technology should be in every hospital!
    – Here’s to you Emily! Run girlfriend, run!


    1. Lydia, thank you so, so much for such sweet note and story about Nana! That technology sounds fascinating, thank you for sharing. Cheers to you starting this year out much better than the last! Sending a big hug your way!


  6. Paula Redmond

    Emily – Congratulations on your new adventure!! I thought your Nana was just awesome!! She was such a kind and loving person.

    You are a lovely person as well, which is tribute enough to both your mom and Nana for sure. However, getting things checked off your bucket list….that’s just what two of our favorite people would highly approve of!

    Have fun – thanks for keeping us updated on important things in your life!! Paula & Keith


  7. Pat Pappas

    What a beautiful tribute to your Nana, Emily. She is very proud of you and don’t think for a second that she hasn’t read your thoughts and memories of her. Bud and I wish you all the luck in your run. You will be successful with the love you have portrayed already and our spirits will be with you. We have watched our Melody do this marathon and it is very special and beautiful. Praying for good weather for you. Looking forward to the finish line picture. Love, Pat & Bud


  8. Tim Engelhart

    My wife, Kelly, and I were lucky enough to live next door to Joan for many years. We can readily attest to the many great attributes Joan possessed. A strong vibrant woman who dearly loved her family and found great joy in being in their company for the many concerts, sporting events and activities. Joan loved to be on the go. I always enjoyed exchanging greetings and good conversation out on the front lawn. She was a wonderful neighbor who is sorely missed. She invested a lot of time in her lovely granddaughters and it shows!! Great kids.


    1. Tim, thank you so much for sharing such sweet thoughts and memories about Nana. I know she always loved living next door to you both. We have all been so lucky to have neighbors like you!


  9. Emily,

    What a wonderful tribute to an incredible woman! Your nana was always at our marathon Arapahoe HS Band Concerts. She showed such pride and love for you and Abbe! Her smile was very contagious!! Good luck on your run and we will definitely be looking for you in future Colorado Symphony and Chorus Concerts!!!


  10. Jessica

    Dearest Em- you are doing a brave and wonderful thing in honor of one of the kindest, most welcoming woman I ever had the pleasure to know! I am so proud of and pleased for you. Your determination is an inspiration to us all! I just wish I could be there to cheer you on as you run. Know that our prayers and thoughts are with you! Love, Jessica


  11. Douglas haines

    Hey Emily Good luck tomorrow , what a great way to pay tribute to Your Nama. She was a great lady! Will be thinking of you with thoughts and prayer.


  12. Candace Maley

    Hope you have an amazing race tomorrow, Emily! We are rooting for you and think you’re amazing for training and running this marathon. Can’t wait to hear how it goes! Be strong!

    With love,
    Candace & Pat


  13. Donald Haines

    Good luck on your run today. Thanks for trying to make people’s lives better and honoring Aunt Joan!

    Don Haines


  14. Jon Westerhaus

    Just signed up for Colfax race and can’t wait to come to Colorado to join the Race for Nana. The joy that you and your family brought last fall to the Twin Cities Marathon was incredible and the Minnesota contingent is looking forward to trying to do the same in Denver.. Emily, you learnt well from your Nana, your family and no doubt others on what it means to love. You exude joy and God’s love shines through you and all I can say is thank you. Also, a big thanks to you and your Mom for organizing this. Sorry about not being able to run the full or half marathon. Did not log enough training miles this winter and a little concerned about the altitude that us flat-landers have trouble with so 5k will have to do. Looking forward to seeing everyone.

    .All the best,

    Jon Westerhaus


    1. Jon, thank you so much for your kind, kind words. We are so excited that you’ll be able to join us out here for the Colfax races and are so grateful that our paths have crossed in the ways that they have. Can’t wait to see you all very soon!


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