Racing for a Cure: PurpleStride New Jersey 2012

I’m not one who usually solicits donations for anything, but I did want to share the details of a particularly special upcoming 5K race here in the hopes that someone might find it in their heart to donate just a few dollars to a very worthy cause.

On November 4, I will once again be running in the annual PurpleStride New Jersey event in Parsippany. The timed race and awareness walk benefits the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a nationwide team of incredibly devoted people who are doing everything in their power to find a cure and create awareness for this horrible disease.

In 2004, my life was forever changed by pancreatic cancer when my beloved grandfather, Charles Gleason, succumbed to the disease. He was diagnosed in January after complaints of abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite — and by July, he was gone. Like most cases of pancreatic cancer, by the time he experienced any symptoms, it was too late.

Overall, there is only a six percent survival rate for pancreatic cancer over a five-year period, and it’s the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Though anyone who sees a pink ribbon immediately thinks about breast cancer, unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is a disease that nobody seems to talk about…it remains the most under-funded and least-studied of all major cancer killers. In fact, pancreatic cancer research earns only two percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget.

And that is why those of us who were touched by this disease have to continue the fight. During my first PurpleStride race last year, I had been listening to a special playlist of Johnny Cash hits — he was Pop’s absolute favorite, and it was a rare occasion to enter his home without the sounds of “Ring of Fire” or “Folsom Prison Blues” playing in the background. Just as I crossed the finish line, I yanked out my iPod earbuds and realized that music had just started playing over the loud speaker…and it was “I Walk the Line.”

It was the first time since his death that I knew without a doubt that he was with me…and that I had made him proud. He was always concerned about my weight struggles and endless bouts of yo-yo dieting, so it’s especially meaningful to me that I can honor his memory through my newfound love of running and 90-pound weight loss.

This year, my sister Christine and I will be participating in the PurpleStride New Jersey event together as team “Charlie’s Angels.” I’ve been training for a new sub-28 minute 5K PR, and it will be her very first race!

Losing Pop remains the most devastating experience of my life. He was more than just a grandfather to me. Our relationship was truly special. When I was young and my mom had to return to work, he was the one who took care of me. As we grew up, he took my sister and I everywhere, from amusement parks to the race track, and there was nothing that he wouldn’t do for either of us. He was there to cheer us on through every dance recital, every softball game, every graduation.

Like most grandparents, he spoiled us rotten with gifts and treats, but it was more than that — Pop wasn’t one to be overly affectionate, but yet he always somehow made sure we knew we were loved.

To this day, my family commonly remarks that I am just like him. There is nobody who understood me the way he did. I credit Pop with my strength and my tenacity. He always encouraged me to do whatever made me happy. While everyone else was questioning my decision to pursue writing as a career, he remained my biggest fan and supporter.

Pop taught me that I should never be afraid to fight for what I believed in. When I was being bullied mercilessly throughout elementary and middle school, he was the one who stepped in to try to pick up the pieces of my shattered self-esteem. He is the one who taught me not to let anyone take advantage of me, or to allow anyone to put me down or make me feel unworthy. He taught me how to stand up for myself.

Because of him, no matter what I start — whether it’s my fledgling running career or my own writing business — I never, ever give up. I often catch myself wondering what he would think about a decision I’ve made, or if I’ve made him proud. He is always with me.

And that’s why no matter how many years pass, I will continue to fight pancreatic cancer in his honor, even if all I can do is donate money to research or participate in awareness events.

There are no words to describe what it was like to watch Pop suffer from pancreatic cancer. When I was 18, I was the one put in charge of driving him to his chemotherapy treatments several times a week; my grandmother was an amputee and could no longer drive, my parents worked full-time, and my sister was too young to have a driver’s license.

We didn’t talk much during those hospital visits, but I am so grateful for those few extra hours that we spent together. It was heartbreaking to watch a man who had always been so strong in my eyes growing weaker and weaker, but he remained courageous until the very end.

I remember during one of his final treatments, a nurse was asking him how he was doing, and he responded, “I will fight this until it’s over.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

If you might want to make even just a small donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in support of our team and in honor of Charles “Pop” Gleason, please visit our team page, “Charlie’s Angels,” here. We appreciate every dollar!

Thank you so much!

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