Christine Barron remembers how heart-wrenching it was when her father, Phil Howard, became ill. His symptoms grew worse, but no one could figure out what was wrong. “It was frustrating how long it took to diagnose him. He had all of these symptoms and they just kept throwing over-the-counter medicines at it,” she explains. Phil had been experiencing indigestion and his stomach had become increasingly sensitive. Soon there were very few foods that he could eat. His symptoms were vague and nonspecific and his doctor thought that maybe he had the flu or bronchitis. Unfortunately, the misdiagnoses did not help and only served to make Phil feel worse.
While Phil tried to write off his symptoms as simple upset stomach, eventually his doctors came to believe there might be something beyond indigestion. Phil developed jaundice, a yellowing of the skin. His doctors suspected that he had some kind of blood disorder, possibly a precursor to cancer. Christine’s brother, Eddie Himes, an Internal Medicine doctor, encouraged his father to go to the Emergency Room. Finally, in February, 2014, Phil heeded his son’s advice. CT scans revealed news that was far worse than anyone expected. Phil had stage IV, inoperable pancreatic cancer. Phil was just 67-years-old at the time of his diagnosis. The enormous tumor in his abdomen made it nearly impossible for him to eat. He was losing weight and becoming weaker by the day.
Further testing showed that the tumor was adenocarcinoma. Phil had everything to live for and was a fighter. He wanted to do anything he could to prolong his time with his family. However, doctors offered little in terms of hope. Their goal was simply to try to make Phil more comfortable during the last days of his life. Phil fought as long and hard as he could. His top priority was to make sure that he had everything in place to ensure that his family would be taken care of. “My dad was very sick, but he was tough as nails. He had been dying for a long time, but he obviously did not know it,” Christine says. Phil passed away on May 18, 2014, just months after diagnosis. Phil left behind Cheryl, his loving wife of 42 years, his children, Christine, Jennifer and Eddie, and his grandchildren.
Christine remembers her father as being a strong man who was filled with life and energy. “Dad was awesome and healthy”, she explains. After seeing his sister succumb to complications from diabetes, he made his own health a priority. An active man, he took up cycling for exercise. A born-again Christian, his faith defined him. Christine knew that following God was her father’s purpose in life and it gave a positive focus to her own childhood. His favorite verse was Romans 8:28
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”
“My father had a positive attitude, even towards the very end. I feel cheated that I did not have more time with him, but I feel like I had a great dad. I had more than most people ever have. I feel honored and blessed to have had a dad who was such a strong influence in my life,” Christine says.
Losing her father so quickly to pancreatic cancer had a profound impact on Christine. She says, “Seeing my dad die changed me. I feel like this experience has made me more compassionate.” While it may sound unorthodox, Christine also feels that this compassion has changed how she approaches her running. She ran her first half-marathon with Jennifer and Eddie five years ago. “Running is a stretch for me. It was hard,” she says. Her best memory was having her dad waiting for her as she crossed the finish line. Phil was incredibly proud of his three kids for running the race. She ran her first half-marathon at the age of thirty and made a promise to herself that she would do one every five years.
When Phil passed away, Christine’s sister, Jennifer, took to running as an outlet for herself during the healing process. But for Christine, running did not feel healing. She tried to lace up her shoes, but the process of running was simply too emotionally-charged and painful for her. However, Christine remembered the promise she had made to herself. She was running out of time to achieve her goal of running a half-marathon every year, as she turns 36 on May 2nd, 2016. As luck would have it, she discovered that Project Purple is an official charity team with the OC Marathon, which took place on May 1st, 2016. She realized that she could honor her dad’s memory and fulfill her goals simultaneously.
Christine works in property management and is a busy married mother of three children: Luke, 8, Noah, 6 and Claire, 3. While running is still a challenge for her, she is glad she signed up for the half-marathon. “The training process is incredible to me. It is amazing to see your body progress each week,” Christine says. She is just days away from running for her father, and she is extremely pleased that her sister Jennifer will be joining her and the rest of the Project Purple team.
Though the training has not always been easy, Jennifer drew her inspiration from the knowledge that she was running for an important cause. She worries that there may be a genetic component to her father’s pancreatic cancer. As she thinks about her own health and the health of her family, she is determined to help fund research. She says, “Research is just so critical. It is important to find a way to catch this disease early.” Christine knows very well how merciless pancreatic cancer is and she hopes to help prevent other families from experiencing what hers has gone through.
This past Sunday, Christine completed the OC Half-Marathon. Her husband and three children came out to provide her with a personalized cheering section. It was an incredible moment for Christine to have her family there supporting her as she achieved her goals and crossed the finish line. Christine says, “It was such a great day and an awesome course!”
There is still time to make a tax-deductible donation to Christine’s Project Purple fundraising campaign. Click the link below to help Christine beat pancreatic cancer!