Running for the “coolest, funniest, friendliest human being ever” – Marli Ehrlich shares her story

two young women smiling in a selfie
Marli Ehrlich (right) is running in this year’s Race to Cure Sarcoma South Florida event in memory of her sister Jaclyn (left), who passed from Ewing sarcoma in 2021.

Marli Ehrlich is a committee member for the inaugural Race to Cure Sarcoma South Florida to honor her sister Jaclyn, who passed away in 2021 from Ewing sarcoma. Marli described Jaclyn as “a crazy good soccer player and the coolest, funniest, friendliest human being ever” whose memory still fills her with pride and inspiration.

Jaclyn’s cancer appeared in the fall of 2019. Jaclyn, a high school junior at the time, fell during a soccer game near her home in New Jersey. Thinking it was a torn muscle, she started seeing a physical therapist but kept on with her life as usual. A few weeks later, Jaclyn fell again, but was unable to stand afterwards. Her parents took her to a hospital in Philadelphia, where an x-ray revealed a tumor in her leg and diagnosed her with Ewing sarcoma.

Marli heard the news about her younger sister’s diagnosis while studying for a final exam at the University of Central Florida. “I had an exam the next day, and I wanted to be there as fast as possible. I texted Jaclyn saying ‘I’m getting on a plane five minutes ago,’ but Jaclyn told me, ‘don’t you dare miss that exam. Finish everything that you’ve worked toward, and do it for me. Then you can come home,’” Marli recalls.

Jaclyn’s treatment began with surgery to remove the tumor in her leg, and she also started chemotherapy. A follow-up medical visit found the cancer had metastasized to Jaclyn’s lungs. “It was a come and go cycle,” Marli explains. “Tumors would get smaller but then new spots would come up. That’s when she started doing clinical trials and radiation.”

During treatment, Jaclyn tried to continue living as normal a life as possible. She kept up with her studies, attended every soccer game and practice, and continued her work as vice president of student government at high school. “Jaclyn was a force to be reckoned with–she refused to miss anything,” Marli says. “Even from her hospital bed, she was coordinating practices, games, and more. She always said she wanted to do more things, not less, because of her cancer.” 

The Ehrlich’s daily routine adjusted to a new normal to better cope with Jaclyn’s treatment schedule. Jaclyn’s father Bryan became very knowledgeable about sarcoma and an advocate, performing hours of his own research investigating clinical trials, doctors, and sarcoma programs around the country. Marli and her mother Sarah took turns driving Jaclyn from their home in New Jersey to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City two or three times a week to participate in a clinical trial.

The Ehrlichs adapted to long hospital visits, waiting for the results of the latest treatment, and getting to know Jaclyn’s medical team. “Jaclyn always surrounded herself with some of the most amazing people and that remained true with her nurses and doctors,” Marli says. “Going with Jac to treatment sessions felt like a social hour because of how many people would stop by just to say hi and chat with us.”

Family posing in front of their house
In this 2021 photo, the Ehrlich family poses in front of their New Jersey home before leaving for South Florida.

In 2021, the family moved to southern Florida so that Jaclyn could take part in a new clinical trial in Miami. Jaclyn’s family also did their best to cope with the grief as Jaclyn’s cancer progressed. “We wanted our lives to remain as normal as possible for her sake. We kept our emotions hidden while she was around, but we’d break down after she went to sleep or went out with friends,” Marli says.

During the worst of Jaclyn’s journey with cancer, the Ehrlich’s family found comfort from an unlikely source: COVID-19. The months of lockdown and social isolation, the Ehrlichs stayed together, allowing the family to spend time together.

“I know COVID-19 was heartbreaking for so many people, but for my family, it was such a gift,” Marli says.

“Getting to simply do nothing together was wonderful,” Marli says. “Jaclyn and I would walk around the neighborhood or on the beach and just talk about anything and everything. We would also drive everywhere together and sing our hearts out to songs on the radio. Those long walks and drives are some of my fondest memories.”

By July of 2021, the cancer had spread to Jaclyn’s brain, and she suffered a stroke. She died two weeks later, on August 8, 2021. The Ehrlichs held funerals in both New Jersey and Florida; more than 1,000 people attended.

After Jaclyn’s passing, the Ehrlich’s launched a fundraising campaign, and raised more than $70,000 for sarcoma research, advocacy, and awareness. Marli attended SFA’s Stand Up to Sarcoma gala on what would have been Jaclyn’s 21st birthday.

As part of the Race to Cure South Florida committee, Marli formed Team Jaclyn with 16 friends and family members. So far, they have raised more than $3,000 to advance research and advocacy for sarcoma. Read more about Team Jaclyn and the 15 other teams at RTCS South Florida, or make a donation here.