Robin Schroeder, from the Detroit area, has enjoyed running, yoga, and other active pastimes throughout her life. When she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years ago, those hobbies seemed to be stripped away from her, yet Robin’s resilience helped propel her through her recovery and eventually to the upcoming 2023 Detroit Marathon with Project Purple.
It was clear to Robin that something was not right in the summer of 2019 when she began experiencing a series of unusual symptoms such as skin pain and extreme fatigue. She went to her doctor to get checked out, and early scans found calcification, which is the hardening of tissue or material, on her pancreas.
The next day, she returned for a follow-up appointment. The doctor told her she had a serious issue and that she needed to make serious changes to her exercise habits, diet, and alcohol consumption.
The news that her lifestyle decisions were causing her significant health issues did not make sense to Robin. Both she and her husband agreed that she lived a healthy way of life and did not have any problems with alcohol.
Confused, she followed up with her doctor to request referrals to a gastroenterologist and dietitian in hopes of getting more answers, but received little help. She called the University of Michigan for a second opinion who brought her in for testing the next week.
There, she learned that the initial scans of her pancreas were read incorrectly. The university doctors found lesions and tumors with a possibility of malignancy. They immediately recommended Robin for a biopsy.
A few months later in March 2020, at the same time the United States entered lockdown protocol for the COVID-19 pandemic, Robin received a letter with her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
“Initially, I was unable to process much,” Robin said. “I was shaking, scared, and numb. Like the world, my mind shut down”.
Robin gave herself a day to process her diagnosis. However, with a fast-acting disease such as pancreatic cancer, she knew there was only limited time to agonize. She needed to make a decision on whether or not to receive surgery on the tumor.
She woke up the following morning, ready to work out a plan with her medical team. After taking some time to plan and discuss, she ultimately opted for the surgery and underwent a Whipple Procedure that May.
Robin’s recovery process went about as smoothly as one could ask for. She kept waiting for complications or setbacks to come, except they never did. Given how steadily her progress was coming along, she decided to treat recovering as her “full-time job”.
Although the surgery was a success and the initial recuperation went well, the doctors informed Robin that she will be on a “watch and wait” list to be monitored for further changes in her condition for the rest of her life.
Accepting the reality of living with an uncontrollable disease such as cancer can weigh heavy on someone. However, Robin doesn’t let it hold her down.
“Watch and wait… Difficult for every cancer patient, even after the five-year mark for those that had successful treatments,” Robin said. “I will be honest, there are moments, keyword ‘moments’, when I say in my head: ‘I have cancer’. It makes my heart skip a beat; I have an instant feeling of inability to breathe, but I shake it off.”
Return to running
Prior to her diagnosis, Robin was always an avid runner. She spent her free time in the hospital looking out the window of her room and watching as people ran around the park across the street. “‘Could that be me one day?’”, she asked herself.
As she remained in the hospital, she began to get her legs back under her. She started by walking laps around the surgical floor. After being discharged from the hospital and returning home, her motivation did not waiver. She walked every day and within two months she logged over 200 miles.
The next step for Robin was to see how well she could hold up running. Eight weeks after her surgery, she gave it a test. Early on she struggled, dealing with udiscomfort and pain in her abdominal area. She continued to push herself each week and eventually became able to run freely without that pain.
One day, while she was running, Robin decided she wanted to train for a half marathon on the anniversary of her surgery. She came across the “DeWitt Take a Breath for PH and Get Moving for MS” run in Michigan. On May 22nd, 2021, the one-year anniversary of the day she had her tumor removed, Robin completed her first post-surgery race.
“During the race, at times I was overtaken with emotion, getting teary; surreal that one year prior at the time of the race I was undergoing this massive surgery,” Robin said. “I broke down at the finish line, took a moment to compose myself, and breathe. I placed first in my age group, which was a first for me. I had to walk a distance to my car and when I arrived at the spectator area, my dad’s favorite song played. I phoned my mom and opened with ‘Mom, I did it’ and we both just cried.”
Since then, Robin has completed a handful of 5k’s, four half marathons, and one full marathon.
Finding Project Purple
Robin found Project Purple on Instagram around the time of her one-year anniversary. “I was blown away,” she said. “Running and pancreatic cancer are two things that I am very passionate about.” She promptly reached out to Dino Verelli, founder and CEO of Project Purple, to see how she could help contribute to a world without pancreatic cancer.
Robin became a member of the Project Purple community, appearing on the Project Purple Podcast in July 2021 to share her story and experience. Additionally, she will help contribute to the cause by running and fundraising with Project Purple for the upcoming Detroit Marathon in October.
During the months leading up to the race, Robin and other Project Purple teams will be raising awareness and money for pancreatic cancer to help patients and families affected by the disease. If you would like to donate to support Robin’s fundraising efforts, visit her team page.
While reflecting on what pushes her through her training, Robin hopes she can help inspire others who are afflicted by pancreatic cancer.
“Mindset can be amazingly powerful with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis,” Robin said. “This is a battle we will win! The fact that I can give back through running is so powerful. I will continue to give back to this community as long as I can.”
If you would like to run a race in support of Project Purple, you can register here.