“When I first made the announcement on Facebook that I had applied to run for Project Purple, everyone started sharing their stories with me. I am running this marathon as much for my father-in-law as I am for Helen, Keith and Sean. I run for a cure. I run for more research to find early diagnosis. I run in honor of all who are no longer here because of this disease,” Debra Durgin explains. Though she only started running a little over two years ago, Debbie is currently training to run her first full marathon in New York City with the Project Purple team.
Debbie originally drew her inspiration to run the New York City Marathon from her father-in-law, Robert Durgin, Sr., who battled pancreatic cancer. Robert’s journey with pancreatic cancer began in January, 2009, when he started experiencing abdominal pain while visiting family in Arizona. Debbie says, “He was in such horrible pain. He tried everything, including laying in a swimming pool, to relieve the pain, but nothing helped.”
During a trip to California later that year, Robert ended up in the hospital. After undergoing testing, he was diagnosed with a pancreatic cyst and given Prilosec. When he returned to his home in Massachusetts, further testing revealed that the cyst was actually pancreatic cancer. Robert’s cancer was advanced, and he was told he had six months to live.
While his cancer was incurable, doctors hoped to give Robert as much time with his family as possible. Debbie says, “He had chemotherapy and radiation and we got 20 months with him.” When facing the loss of a loved one, every day becomes precious. During those 20 months, Robert was able to watch his son, Bob, marry Debra. He also saw his youngest daughter, Diana, get married. He and his wife, Carol, celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. He was able to meet his third grandchild, Bob and Debbie’s daughter, Aubree. He celebrated his 70th birthday. Robert outlived his doctor’s prediction by 14 months, and his entire family is grateful for the time they had together.
Right after celebrating his 70th birthday, Robert began a rapid decline. He was admitted to a palliative care unit in the hospital. He was in severe pain, but the nurses took wonderful care of him. Robert passed away one month after his 70th birthday. He is survived by his wife, his four children and his grandchildren.
As a child, Debbie never imagined that she would one day run a marathon. As a girl, she was unable to run a mile without stopping every few feet to walk. That changed in April of 2014, when the registered nurse and mother of two signed up for a local 5k race. The race’s goal was to raise funds to build a new playground. Debbie’s children were 1 and 2 years old at the time, and a new playground sounded like a worthy cause.
Debbie set increasingly difficult goals for herself. She challenged herself to run to the entrance of her neighborhood. Over time, she built up her endurance block by block and street by street. For Mother’s Day, she received a double jogging stroller as a gift. As difficult as it was, she pushed her two children in the stroller all the way through the 5k fundraiser, breaking down in tears as she crossed the finish line.
Setting New Goals
Soon after finishing her first 5k, Debbie signed up to run her first half-marathon. She completed this race in November, 2015, and followed up with another one in December. She does not run for the glory that comes with crossing a finish line, however. “I enjoy just going out there, without a care in the world. It is my stress relief,” she explains.
After completing those two half-marathons, Debbie started looking for a new goal. She wanted to run a marathon. As a Boston resident, the first marathon that came to mind was the Boston Marathon. Looking over the list of Boston charity partners, she found Project Purple. After reading up on the charity, she ultimately decided to apply to run the New York City Marathon with the Project Purple team.
Deb Runs for Her Father-In-Law and All Who have Fought Pancreatic Cancer
When Debra posted about her upcoming marathon on Facebook, she learned of many people who battled pancreatic cancer. She heard from her co-worker, Tricia, whose mother, Helen Ferlito, fought pancreatic cancer. Helen was diagnosed with the illness in May, 2002, and passed away just six weeks later.
Debbie learned about Keith Galvin, who passed away just after his 50th birthday party. Keith never got to watch his daughter, Denise, marry the love of her life, Steve.
Kerin O’Malley told Debbie about her brother, Sean O’Malley, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 37.
The pain of pancreatic cancer
Debbie realized that many people had suffered the heartbreak that pancreatic cancer brings. She decided that she would run for her father-in-law and all of those who had been touched by pancreatic cancer. She says, “I am running for my father-in-law who fought such an amazing fight, but lost. I want to run for Helen, who didn’t even get a chance to fight. Gone in only six weeks after diagnosis. How fair is that?” She continues, “I want to run for Keith, who never got to walk his daughter down the aisle. I am running for Sean who was taken too soon at only 37. I run for all those families who have suffered, and continue to suffer through this terrible disease.”
Finally, she adds, “I also run for those who have survived, because they too have fought a tough battle. I am literally in tears every time I think about all the good this charity does for families touched by this cancer. I am humbled, to say the least, that I can run with the Project purple logo proudly on my shirt. I couldn’t be more proud to run for this charity.”
Please support Debbie’s Project Purple fundraiser by making a donation at the following link: