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Tonawanda woman runs Boston Marathon for her late friend, Natasha Cassick

Some days, Jackey Deschamps might be the only runner on the road, but she was never running alone training for the Boston Marathon on Monday.

BOSTON — Some days, Jackey Deschamps might be the only runner on the road, but she was never running alone training for the Boston Marathon on Monday.

"Running can be a very lonely sport. I run alone. You're out there four or five hours... I know she's here in spirit though, I know she's here," Deschamps said about her late friend Natasha Cassick, to whom she dedicated the run of her life.

"We met a few times tailgating, so when I started at Southwest, it was a familiar face, and of course, she had the most beautiful smile. Everyone will tell you that," Jackey said about Natasha.

Matthew Cassick was even more drawn to the woman the day he met her.

"I kind of asked myself 'Is this real?' Because it was just such a beautiful smile that I couldn't believe that I was getting the opportunity to talk to her," Matthew said.

Natasha was a diehard Bills fan, as Matthew found out as soon as he saw his future wife for the first time.

"When she walked in, you could just see the bubbly attitude. She had a nice sparkly Bills shirt on and I knew right there that it wasn't just going to be one date," Matthew said.

Jackey said, "She loved just dressing up, decorating. She always had a Bills flag she wore like a cape." 

Natasha was the superwoman of Orchard Park tailgates, with the cape to prove it, keeping the rest of Bills Mafia safe from the cold.

"In the wintertime, she had the clothes for everybody because she wanted to go all day, and she was gonna make sure that everybody was gonna go all day so if you forgot something, she had it for you," Matthew said.

And as Natasha's brother-in-law, Colin Healy described - no celebration was too over-the-top.

"Pajamas, sweaters, sweatshirts, headbands," he said recalling holidays with Natasha.

"She had a planner. Like a physical planner, she brought with her all the time and it was - how many Party City stops are we going to make along the way? Do we have enough?" 

"She always made me wear these goofy hats. You know? If we go to a meat raffle, I'd have to wear a turkey hat. It's just little things like that like, 'you know, Tasha, you're the only one I'd do this for,'" Matthew said.

Eventually, life brought Natasha and Jackey together working for Southwest Airlines before an indefinite departure when the pandemic hit.

What Jackey didn't know - Natasha was fighting a battle for her life while they were away.

"She noticed a little difference in a mole with a little discoloration and went to the dermatologist, and from there went to Roswell and got a skin check," Matthew said.

It was melanoma.

"In about July, we thought everything, we all thought that it was gone," he said. "Early October, she started getting sick, and this time you could tell there was just something out of the ordinary." 

The Cassicks and their families were given the devastating news - time wasn't on their side.

"The second you hear that information, it's life-altering because you're worried about the one person that you want to live with, you might have to live without," Matthew said.

"It's that one person you're supposed to spend the rest of your life with that you were just having your anniversary dinner a week ago, and now you're worried about never seeing them again." 

At 31 years old, Natasha lost her battle with Melanoma.

Matthew said, "I lost Natasha on October 22nd, which happened to be my birthday, and I knew from that day, that she wasn't going anywhere. I knew her hanging around for my birthday was saying we're in this forever.

"I don't know if I could do this without her, so I know she's still there, and I know she's walking me through." 

But Natasha still walks with her husband and runs with her friend, Jackey.

"When Natasha passed away, immediately I knew in my future I wanted to run a race in her memory," Jackey said.

"I never imagined it would be the Boston Marathon because to me that just seemed out of my league." 

For as many marathons as Jackey runs, her times never qualified for Boston.

Still, she applied to fundraise for Team Impact Melanoma, one of the Marathon's official charities, but she would need some help.

"I posted on Twitter my plans, what I was doing and who I was running for and shared some photos of Natasha and myself," Jackey said.

That help is never far away in the City of Good Neighbors. 

"Someone tweeted 'Bills Mafia, do your thing,' and they shared my link, and thankfully, donations have just been coming in steadily since," Jackey said.

Like they have so many times before, Bills Mafia raced to support a cause, a dream, and a memory. Jackey was off to Boston.

"I felt like it was the perfect race for her because she deserves the biggest, the best of them all," Jackey said. "It's actually a dream that I almost didn't have because it seemed unattainable." 

"She would want me and everyone to live continuously to the fullest as she did. She did. She lived every day as if it was a holiday."

Jackey told 2 On Your Side she hoped to finish the Boston Marathon in under six hours. She beat that mark by 34 minutes in five hours and 26 minutes, wearing a patch that read "TashaStrong" for the family Natasha's family started to raise awareness about the disease that took her away.

To learn more about the organization, visit https://tashastrong.org/.

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