I first met Florida resident Dianne Lavado at the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon expo in October, 2015. At the time, her mother was battling pancreatic cancer and Dianne had been talking with Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli about Pancreatic Cancer and running on the Boston Marathon team. We chatted about her mom and her running for a few minutes at the expo and I wished her well in her race. Just three months later, on January 27, 2016, Dianne’s mother, Irene Lavado, passed away, leaving behind her husband, Adelino Lavado, her two daughters, Dianne and Lisa Devaney, and her three grandchildren. Dianne is now channeling her grief and loss as she prepares to run the Boston Marathon in April, 2016.
Irene Lavado was the youngest of four children. Her father had come to the United States from his homeland of Portugal. “My mom, whose family was also from Portugal, was the first generation of our family to be born in the US. Portuguese was her first language and that is all we spoke in the house,” Dianne recalls. Irene was the first person in her family to attend college. She graduated with a degree in education and worked as a teacher for 40 years. Though she enjoyed her career, Irene was a woman who had many other interests and passions. She was very social and went to BINGO weekly. She adored dancing and she participated in a Portuguese Folk dancing group in her earlier years. ”My mom loved to dance and would never leave weddings or parties unless my dad would dance at least one time,” Dianne remembers.
A woman of deep faith, Irene went to church every single day. She enjoyed traveling and after she retired from her job, she spent time visiting with friends and seeing the world. Irene loved people and had a huge network of friends. Dianne says, “If I had half the friends she had, I would be a very lucky person!”
Family was particularly important to Irene. The Lavados are a large, close Portuguese family. Irene and Adelino were married for 50 years. Irene was a social butterfly by nature, and Adelino is not. Dianne says, “In some ways they were exact opposites, but they made it work.” Irene’s children were the most important thing in the world to her. “She always wanted me to have a better life than they had. She would always tell me, ‘I always hope for the best for you.’” Dianne describes her mother as both very tough and very loving in her parenting-style.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Irene first began having health issues when she fell and ended up with four lower back fractures. She had a full spinal fusion in Boston in November, 2014. Though she made improvements, she continued to complain of having lower back pain and digestive issues. She sought the care of a doctor in her hometown who referred her to a gastroenterologist who found a blockage in her bile duct. The blockage concerned him and he referred her to a doctor in Boston. It was on June 12, 2015 that the family first heard the words “pancreatic cancer” and received the diagnosis that changed their world. Two of Irene’s biliary ducts were blocked and the medical team believed that she had stage 3 pancreatic cancer. They told her that she could only expect to live for one to one-and-a-half years.
Because her tumor was wrapped around a major artery, Irene was not eligible for surgery. The decision was made to begin chemotherapy. She made it through three rounds, but her tumor did not respond to the treatments. By September, 2015, Irene had stopped chemotherapy and had entered into hospice treatment. She continued to do well for several months but took a quick and dramatic turn for the worse in January 2016. When I spoke with Dianne in January, 2016, she told me, “My mom was doing pretty well. She was eating and walking and functioning as a person with pancreatic cancer. She had digestive issues and was tired more than she used to be but otherwise was ok. Beginning around January 11, 2016 she started to decline rapidly. Within a two week time frame she was no longer being able to walk by herself. She sleeps most of the day and does not want anything to eat. It has been a very dramatic and quick change. It is amazing how quickly she has gone downhill.” A few days later, Dianne was making plans to fly from her home in Florida to her mother’s home in New Bedford, MA to be by her mother’s side. Irene passed away just hours upon Dianne reaching her bedside.
Dianne, who played field hockey in high school in addition to dancing and gymnastics as a child, started running in 2010. She tells me, “This is bad, but at first I wanted to run a marathon because I wanted this really cool finisher medal from the Gasparilla Marathon which had a pirate ship and said Maiden Voyage on it. I am not a fast runner, but I have met a whole bunch of great people through running both in Florida and Boston. They have become my friends and family in Florida. Even though everyone is faster than I am, they treat me like everyone else.” Over time, Dianne grew to love running. She loved the way it made her feel. She loved the people she met through her training runs and races. She loved that racing afforded her the opportunity to visit areas she might not otherwise have gone to. So far, she has run in California (Big Sur), New York City and Dublin, Ireland.
Dianne has run the Boston Marathon twice previously for a charity team. When her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Dianne reached out to Susan Hurley of CharityTeams.org and asked her if she knew of any pancreatic cancer charities. Susan recommended Project Purple. Soon, Dianne connected with Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli and the two quickly became friends. Dianne says of Project Purple, “It is a great organization. Everyone is so responsive. I would call Dino on his cell to ask him questions because sometimes you just don’t know if what is happening to the patient is normal and he would stop what he was doing to talk to me every time.”
Dianne knew that she wanted to run the Boston Marathon for pancreatic cancer due to her mom’s diagnosis but now will also be running it in her mother’s honor. Since she grew up in the Boston area, the Boston Marathon holds many great memories and means a lot more for Dianne than the average marathon. Furthermore, her mother had gone out to cheer her on previously when she ran Boston in 2012. “My mom said it was the best day of her life. I remember meeting my mom and my sister in three different locations and seeing my mom holding a sign that said ‘your biggest fan’. It was so amazing and I was hoping that she would be able to be there again this year. I wanted her to be in that 1% that survived longer than the average person diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Dianne says.
Unfortunately, Irene will not be there with Dianne this year. The race takes on a whole new meaning for her now. “At times, this is very surreal. It is like a dream or a nightmare that you think you are going to wake up from but every time you wake up, you are in the same nightmare.”
As she prepares to run in her mother’s honor, Dianne has goals for what she would like to see in the future. “When I would tell people that my mom had pancreatic cancer, the response I always got was, ‘Oh, I am sorry.’ You know with pancreatic cancer, there isn’t going to be much success. I would love for the response to be different someday.” Dianne hopes that in the near future there will be a form of early detection for pancreatic cancer.
Dianne will continue trying to educate people about pancreatic cancer, even while she struggles with the loss of her mother. “Losing anyone is difficult but the loss of a parent is an exceptional kind of loss. You do not realize the toll that it takes until you are going through it. I feel like I have aged 20 years through this process. No matter how old your mom or dad is, it is always too early to lose them.”
Please support Dianne’s Boston Marathon Project Purple fundraiser by making a donation at the following link: