Karen Memari’s father, George, worked hard his entire life. At the age of 77, when most people are retired, he still went to work every day in the food service industry. In early 2015, he started experiencing stomach pain. The pain prevented him from being able to eat his normal diet and he lost a tremendous amount of weight. One Friday in March, 2015, after working all day, he finally drove himself to the Emergency Room. George, in his typical fashion, did not want to inconvenience anyone so he waited until the end of his workday before taking care of his own health.
At the hospital doctors discovered a mass in George’s pancreas. Further testing revealed that he had stage II pancreatic cancer. He was eligible for the Whipple surgery, which removes the head of the pancreas and reroutes the digestive tract. His Whipple was performed at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia in April, 2015. Cancer was present in two of the lymph nodes his doctor had taken out, but the surgeon felt confident that all of the cancer had been removed. George’s prognosis was considered to be quite favorable and his doctors felt positive about his future. Still, his oncologist recommended adjuvant chemotherapy following George’s Whipple. After two months of chemotherapy, he also underwent radiation treatment.
Even during his treatment, when he was considered to be cancer-free, George was still in a great deal of pain. Concerned that there was something seriously wrong, George’s family requested further testing. The doctor ordered a CT scan and it showed that, despite all of the treatments, George’s pancreatic cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. The oncologist gave the family three options: George could do more chemotherapy, he could try to find a clinical trial or he could opt for no treatment. George had everything to live for and he wanted to fight his disease with everything he had. He opted to try more chemotherapy.
Unfortunately, this new chemotherapy combination made George very ill. After only had two rounds of chemo, he became extremely ill. He suddenly stopped breathing at home and Karen’s sister, a nurse, did CPR, saving her father’s life. The oncologist felt that continuing the chemotherapy was no longer an option. He told the Memari family that George could try a clinical trial, but he felt that the odds of survival were below 1%.
George was weak and fragile, but he was still able to get around with the help of a walker. He was in a lot of pain, but he managed to swallow soft foods. Though the family knew his time was growing short, they were still taken by surprise when he passed away just before Christmas in 2015. Karen, who lives in New York City, was thankful that she was by her father’s side the day he passed away.
Karen Memari remembers her father as being a generous man who would do anything to help others. George and Karen’s mother, Maani, had both immigrated separately to the United States. George worked in a shoe factory and Maani was providing care for an elderly aunt. The two met in Allentown, PA, through Maani’s cousin, and were married a few weeks later. The couple raised four daughters together and enjoyed 40 years of marriage.
Though the Memari’s were not wealthy, George always gave what he could to help others. He housed several relatives who had come from Syria to the United States in hopes of creating better lives. Karen says, “Dad always said that our relatives could stay as long as they wanted. No matter how little they had, he always had plenty to give. I always think of his generosity.” Karen’s father was a dedicated family man who would do anything for his daughters. “Dad would do anything for his girls. He was very reliable. If I called him up at midnight and said I needed something, I know he would drive two hours to get it to me.”
After her father passed away, Karen knew she wanted to do something to honor his memory. She found a way to use her love of running to commemorate her father’s battle with pancreatic cancer. The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse had started running four years prior, and her first race was a Runner’s World 10k in Bethlehem, PA. Soon she was running half-marathons and thinking about trying a full marathon. For Karen, who lives in New York City, the New York City Marathon had long been a bucket-list race. She put her name in for the lottery in 2014 and was shocked and surprised to learn she had been chosen to run the race. She loved the crowds at the marathon and the experience of running through all five boroughs. She enjoyed it so much that she signed back up to run the marathon again in 2015. She says, “The marathon makes you feel like a celebrity for a day. Everyone cheers for you. It was an amazing experience!”
Training for the marathon in 2015 proved to be more challenging than it had in 2014. With her father gravely ill from his pancreatic cancer, Karen was unsure if she would even be able to actually run the race. She was able to run, however, and while out on the course, she saw a group of people wearing Project Purple singlets. She recalls, “It also impressed me that they had a large group from Project Purple cheering for them on the side of the street in Brooklyn! Their group camaraderie and supportive spirit was so touching and inspiring. It made me take a mental note to look them up at a later time!” Karen felt a connection to the mystery group without knowing anything about them. She thought, “There are people who know what I am going through with my dad.”
After her father passed away, Karen remembered the group from the NYCM. She Googled Project Purple and discovered that the charity is a partner with the Napa-to-Sonoma half-marathon. Knowing that this race would provide beautiful scenery in California wine country, she decided it would be the perfect race to train for and run in honor of her father. “I want to do this to honor my dad. I miss him every day. He was a quiet man and was never boastful. He would be grateful and very overwhelmed by how many people who have donated to my Crowdrise already. He raised four girls and did the best he could for our family. This is my way of repaying him and honoring his memory.”
Please make a contribution to Karen’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following link and help her to honor her father’s memory.