Elli Erickson: Project Purple Executive Director

Project Purple is thrilled to announce the hiring of Elli Erickson as our new Executive Director. Elli brings a tremendous wealth of expertise and enthusiasm to this position. As Executive Director, she will be handling all of Project Purple’s communications and marketing outreach, helping the charity to reach its objective of a world without pancreatic cancer. Beyond her professional knowledge and experience, Elli brings something much more important to the table: passion for the cause. Perhaps more than anyone, Elli understands the deadly nature of the disease. Tragically, she lost both her mother and her father to pancreatic cancer. Elli is determined to use her heartbreaking experiences to create something positive for others through her work with Project Purple.


Elli’s First Experience with Pancreatic Cancer

Elli officially joined the Project Purple team on November 1, 2016. Exactly four years previously, Elli first heard the words ‘pancreatic cancer’ when her mom, Sharon Erickson, was diagnosed with the illness. Much to her family’s disbelief, Sharon’s cancer was already stage IV when it was discovered. Elli was astounded to learn there was no cure for her mother’s illness. She watched helplessly as her mother battled against the demon that is pancreatic cancer. Within months, Sharon passed away. Elli felt devastated by the loss of her mom, whom she considered to be her best friend.

Elli first experienced Project Purple from the perspective of a runner who, like most of our runners, had suffered a tragic loss. She joined the Marine Corps Marathon team and was comforted to be among other family members who understood her feelings. Elli wanted to find a way to connect with others on the same level in her home state of Nebraska. Three years ago, she volunteered to start a Lincoln Marathon team for Project Purple. Over the years, the team has grown and become incredibly successful both in terms of the number of runners and in the amount of money raised.

Erickson Family Faces Pancreatic Cancer Again

Elli’s strong desire to eradicate pancreatic cancer was recognized by Project Purple when she was asked to join the charity’s Board of Directors and was elected to the position of Vice President. But, in 2015, the unthinkable happened: Elli’s father, Gary, was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Still grieving the loss of her mother, Elli had to face the beast for a second time. While juggling her demanding job at KPMG with parenting three sons, she did her best to spend as much time as possible with her dad. Gary Erickson passed away in the spring of 2016.

During this time, Project Purple first approached Elli about coming to work for the organization as Executive Director. However, Elli felt the timing was not right. She explains, “I was not going to be able to give it my all. Plus, dealing with pancreatic cancer all day, every day while my dad was battling…I didn’t think I would be mentally strong enough to do it.”

However, Elli discussed the opportunity with her dad. Gary told his daughter, “Don’t leave your job because of your mom and me. But, I also don’t think it is a coincidence that your mom and I both had this illness. Maybe this is meant to be your life’s calling.” After taking time to grieve the loss of her father, Elli knew she wanted to join Project Purple full-time.

Elli’s Vision

As Project Purple works towards fulfilling its mission of creating a world without pancreatic cancer, Elli knows that her vision matches perfectly with the goals of the charity. She feels incredibly fortunate to be able to have a position that gives meaning and purpose to her life every single day.

While she believes we need to continue to fund important research, her own experiences have opened her eyes to the importance of supporting patients who are currently battling pancreatic cancer. “Having watched two parents go through it, I know the struggles patients and their families face. I want to focus a lot more time and energy into our Patient Financial Aid program. I want to be able to help as many patients as we can and I want to give them as many resources as we can.”

Just as Elli helped to expand Project Purple in the state of Nebraska, she will grow the charity on a national scale. She plans to help broaden the focus of the charity so she can bring more families into the fight against pancreatic cancer. “I am really excited about this. I promised my mom and dad I would never stop fighting. Knowing the genetic risk, I am afraid for myself, my brother and my kids. But, I am just really passionate about helping other people.”

Project Purple is Family

One of the things that draws Elli to Project Purple is the family-like feel of the charity. While her goal is to dramatically grow the charity in the coming months and years, she says, “I never want us to lose our family feel. I want to always make sure we are hiring people who have a personal connection to the disease. By hiring people who are like-minded and who have similar experiences, it helps us maintain the tight-knit family feeling of this charity.”

Elli believes it is this common connection to the disease which is behind the success of Project Purple. While Project Purple has mostly focused on running in the past, the charity now seeks to expand into new and exciting areas. By expanding beyond the world of running, she hopes the charity can grow and tap into a whole new group of supporters.

The Perfect Person for the Cause

Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli believes that Elli is the perfect person to help Project Purple broaden its mission and grow. Beyond Elli’s obvious connection to pancreatic cancer, she brings much more to Project Purple. He says, “We have a nearly insurmountable task of finding a cure for the hardest cancer to defeat. It takes some super talented and super passionate people to work towards this goal. To be successful you have to surround yourself with really, really good people. Elli is really good at what she does and I respect and appreciate what she brings to the table. It makes us so much better to have someone of her caliber join us.”

All of us at Project Purple know we are incredibly fortunate to have Elli join us full-time. With her passion, experience and commitment to the cause, we know we will eventually have a world without pancreatic cancer. Please join us in welcoming Elli aboard!

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