KENNEBUNK, Maine — Sarah Liziewski was in Portland taking part virtually in the 2018 Jimmy Fund Walk, doing her part to help raise awareness for cancer research and resources, when she got a call from her daughter Kathryn.
“Mom,” Kathryn began, “you’ve got to meet Christine. You have so much in common with her, and I know you’d love her!”
Kathryn had met Christine as the two of them also participated in that day's Jimmy Fund Walk in Massachusetts. Christine was Christine Carberry, of Rye, New Hampshire.
Kathryn was correct: her mother and Carberry did have much in common. Both women had lost their husbands to pancreatic cancer. Both turned to the annual Jimmy Fund Walk to bring meaning, purpose and something positive out of the losses they had suffered. And, once they met, both would team up and form the Purple Striders, a small but mighty group dedicated to raising funds, specifically for pancreatic cancer research and resources, for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
How small is the group? Currently, it has seven members and is welcoming as many more people as possible.
And how mighty? Quite: since forming in 2019, the Purple Striders have raised more than $161,500 for the cause. The next Jimmy Fund Walk is this October, and already the Striders have raised twice the amount they had set out to raise - $20,000, as opposed to the $10,000 they set their sights on.
According to Liziewski, the group chose its name in part because the color purple is used to raise awareness for the fight against pancreatic cancer.
According to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, pancreatic cancer is a “very complex condition to treat, since symptoms are often not apparent until the cancer has advanced to the point where it has spread beyond the pancreas.”
About 62,210 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. About 49,830 people will die from the disease. Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the United States and about 7% of all cancer deaths. It is slightly more common in men than in women, the American Cancer Society says.
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Honoring their memories
Liziewski lost her husband, Dan, a Merchant Marine captain, in 2013, after he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the year before. He was a “kid at heart,” who “loved helping people,” Liziewski said. He was so proud of the two daughters he and Liziewski had brought into the world.
When Dan died at age 52, he was the same age that his father had been when he died of colon cancer so many years earlier, according to Liziewski. Taking part in the Jimmy Fund Walk and joining forces with Carberry has made a tremendous difference in helping Liziewski through her grief.
“It has been the difference between sinking and swimming,” she said during an interview earlier this week.
Carberry lost her husband, Tim, in early 2018. He had been diagnosed in 2016 and spent 23 months battling pancreatic cancer. Born into a big Irish family, Tim was a “great family guy,” a father who set aside his career as a lobsterman to be a stay-at-home Dad and raise his and Carberry’s son and daughter.
“He really taught me to put family first,” Carberry said during an interview on Tuesday. “That is a lesson I still carry with me.”
Her husband had “no regrets and no bucket list” and continued to live his life on his terms as best as he could, Carberry said. An avid golfer, he hit the links 100 times during the last year of his life.
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Walking through grief and healing
Carberry’s participation in the Jimmy Fund Walk and her teamwork with Liziewski has helped her work through her grief, as well.
“Working through grief is different for everyone,” she said. “I wanted to take something sad and bring meaning to it.”
As the Purple Striders, Liziewski focuses on recruiting more team members and Carberry concentrates on fundraising. Those who wish to join their team can email Liziewski at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who wish to donate to their cause may do so at the team’s fundraising page on the Jimmy Fund Walk’s website.
“We 'wage hope’ with every dollar we raise that the future for pancreatic cancer patients can include new discoveries and better treatments,” Liziewski said. “We know that Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has the talent to provide groundbreaking studies and treatments and commemorate our husbands by supporting The Jimmy Fund Walk.”
Participating in the annual walk has been a way to honor their husbands’ memories.
"Someone said that you die twice,” Carberry said. "Your second death is the last time someone speaks your name. We keep Dan and Tim’s memory alive by sharing their stories and making sure their names are ever-present in our efforts.”
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Jimmy Fund Walk aims to defy cancer, support breakthroughs
Since it began 33 years ago, the Jimmy Fund Walk has raised more than $155 million for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The 2022 walk will take place on Sunday, Oct. 2, and is raising funds to support all forms of adult and pediatric patient care and cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“Whether participating for themselves, loved ones, neighbors, or co-workers, each walker shares a common purpose: to defy cancer and support breakthroughs that will benefit cancer patients around the world,” the organization said in its press release.
This year, participants will follow the Boston Marathon course after two years of completing the annual walk virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants can choose to walk one of four distances: a 5K Walk, totaling 3.1 miles; a 10K Walk, totaling 6.2 miles; a half-marathon, at 13.1 miles; or a full-on marathon at 26.2 miles. While each of these options will have different starting places, all will have the same finish line: Copley Square in downtown Boston.
But you can walk virtually too – covering the distances of your choice anywhere you’d like, whether in your neighborhood, along your favorite local trail, or even on your treadmill in the comfort of your own home. Liziewski and Carberry did just this when they participated in the walk in 2020 and 2021 – they did half the marathon on Liziewski’s turf in the Kennebunks and the other half in Carberry’s territory in New Hampshire.
“You can do it in New Zealand. You can do it in New Mexico. You can do it wherever you are,” Carberry said.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Bonded by grief: Widows put best feet forward to fight pancreatic cancer