Sharon Thomas was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer in 2009. Her family was told that she could only expect to live for a few months, but Sharon fought as hard as she could. Amanda Thomas, Sharon’s daughter, explains, “Her grandson, Liam, was a huge motivator for her to live as long as she could. He is my sister Amy’s son, and he was born right before she was diagnosed.” Sharon fought hard so that she could have more time with her family. She defied the odds and survived stage IV Pancreatic Cancer for two years, passing away in May of 2011.
Sharon suffered from Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, for many years. She began experiencing stomach pains, and she assumed that it was due to her Crohn’s. Sharon had an extremely high tolerance for pain, and she put off going to the doctor for several months. Finally, when she and her husband, Doug, were visiting Central Park in New York City, she found that she could no longer walk. The couple left New York City immediately, and upon arriving home, Doug took Sharon straight to the hospital. She was in a great deal of pain and had become jaundiced. After some testing, Sharon was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.
Sharon’s doctor was very direct with the Thomas family. He told them that Sharon likely only would survive for 3 to 6 months. Sharon was placed on chemotherapy to try to alleviate her pain. The family immediately began researching Pancreatic Cancer in hopes of finding ways to help extend Sharon’s life. They changed their diets, hoping that doing so might slow the tumor growth. The Thomases did everything they could to make their lives healthier. They all wanted to make changes that they hoped would give Sharon more time.
Sharon beat the odds for a while. She lived well beyond what her doctors had predicted. Amanda believes that her mother fought tooth and nail to stay alive because she wanted more time with her family. Amanda Thomas describes her mother Sharon as “a wonderful mother.” She says, “My mom always put her family first. She never missed sporting events. She was always there and always motivating and encouraging us.” She was the glue that kept our family together.” The family has felt the loss of its matriarch since Sharon passed away in 2011. Amanda explains, “It has been difficult since she has been gone. There is a different family dynamic now. She was the one who would pull everyone together for holidays and family trips.”
In 2011, the Thomas family learned the importance of not putting things off forever. When Sharon was first diagnosed, the family talked about taking a trip to the Dominican Republic together. Somehow the timing never seemed quite right. Finally, nearly two years later, they decided that taking a trip would be therapeutic for everyone. They finally took that trip to the Dominican Republic and had a wonderful time making memories. Just three weeks after the family returned from their trip of a lifetime, Sharon passed away. Everyone was so grateful that they had taken the trip with Sharon while she still felt well enough to go.
Amanda and her two sisters, Amy Hanley and Valerie Galbreath, were very active as youngsters. They all played basketball, volleyball and softball in school. Their mom served as both coach and head cheerleader for their activities over the years. After Amanda graduated from college, she took up running as a means to keep herself healthy. She has now been running for approximately 13 years. She says, “Running is my way of decompressing. I love being outside. I don’t run with music. I just take the time to process things and be out in nature. It is a great way to deal with stress.”
After losing her mother, Amanda decided that she wanted to use her running as a means to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer. She had always wanted to run the New York City Marathon. She found Project Purple and was so impressed when the charity founder, Dino Verrelli, called her personally. The two spoke for 90 minutes on the phone. Amanda explains, “Dino is so incredibly passionate. It was very motivating to talk with him.” Amanda joined the 2013 Project Purple New York City Marathon team after that first conversation with Dino.
Amanda wore her Project Purple singlet during the marathon and was blown away by the number of people who approached her during the race to talk about Pancreatic Cancer. “It was amazing to me that people who were actually running were starting a conversation with me while they were running the marathon. People would say, ‘It is great that you are doing this because I knew someone who passed away from Pancreatic Cancer.’” Amanda made her marathon experience even more meaningful by dedicating each mile to someone who had donated to her fundraising campaign.
This year, Amanda is rejoining the Project Purple team. She will be running in her hometown in the Chicago Marathon. For Amanda, her first marathon experience was about just testing her body to see if she could finish. Now she is working hard to improve her running speed so she can attain a faster finish time. Amanda has joined local running groups in Chicago and has added in cross-training and high intensity interval training. Beyond her own time goals, Amanda is attempting to help raise awareness and funds for the cancer that took her beloved mother Sharon. Amanda hopes that there will soon be a cure for Pancreatic Cancer.
Please donate to Amanda’s Chicago Marathon fundraising campaign at the link below: