Karla Loera is emotional throughout our interview. She breaks down in tears several times, her emotions raw and genuine. She was only 29 years old when the love of her life, Don Corp, passed away after a short but hard fought battle with pancreatic cancer. Though losing Don has been the most difficult thing Karla has ever endured, she is dedicated to putting an end to this disease which took Don from her. In October, Karla is running the Chicago Marathon with the Project Purple team.
A Man with a Calling: Don Corp
Don Corp was the kind of person who helped others, even while he battled pancreatic cancer. A second generation law enforcement officer, he joined the police department in Aurora, IL in 1996 as a cadet and became an officer in 1999. Inspired by his father, Don served for 16 years, rising to the rank of Sargent. Karla adds, “Being a police officer was his passion, his life. He loved his job.”
An avid Chicago Cubs fan, Don and his best friend, Erik, made the trip to Arizona for Spring Training every year. “I’ve never known anyone to get as riled up over games the way he did,” Karla explains.
Karla Loera: Our First Meeting
Karla first met Don when they attended a wedding in Jamaica. She explains, “His best friend is my best friend’s brother. Don was the best man in their wedding in 2011.” The Jamaica nuptials provided the opportunity for Karla and Don to spend time getting to know one another. It was a special and romantic trip which sparked a romance for the couple.
Even though Karla and Don had feelings for one another, the timing was not quite right for them. Don was recently divorced and though he and Karla enjoyed one another’s company, they ultimately opted to maintain a friendship rather than pursuing a romantic relationship. Ultimately, circumstances brought them back together and their relationship was soon stronger than it ever had been.
Karla Loera Receives Life-Changing New
Don was a private person who did not like drawing attention to himself. When he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer in July, 2015, Don told very few people. One of his closest friends knew there was someone he share the diagnosis with: Karla Loera. As soon as she heard about Don’s illness, she reached out to him. She became an important source of support for Don as he endured months of treatments. Soon, they rekindled their romantic relationship.
Despite the dire news, Karla and Don remained hopeful. She explains, “We had high hopes. He was 36, active and relatively healthy.” Don began chemotherapy treatments immediately. By November, the difficult regimen took a toll on his body. His normal energy dipped increasingly lower and Karla could see the physical changes. He lost weight and was losing his hair.
Still, Don’s tumor markers decreased, indicating treatment was working. Karla was at once hopeful and confused. She wondered how the tests could be showing improvement while she was witnessing his physical decline.
Karla was right to trust what she saw. In fact, Don grew sicker over time. His tumor was not shrinking. Don Corp passed away in March, 2016, just eight months after his initial diagnosis.
The Worst Loss
Karla was absolutely devastated to lose Don. She explained through her tears, “It was incredibly tough. We weren’t even able to begin a life together before the rug was ripped out from underneath us.” While Don battled his illness, the two planned a future together, which included marriage and a family. “The first six months after losing him were the most difficult of my life. I took an entire month off from work because I couldn’t get out of bed. I did not know how I was going to get through it. He was everything to me.”
Don fought with everything he had so he could be with his loved ones, including Karla. They stayed active and went out on date nights until he was physically unable. On one of their final nights out, they went to a jazz club. Simply sitting in the club proved too painful, however, and the couple was forced to leave early.
Running as Therapy
Karla started running several years ago, but when she lost Don, running became an outlet for her grief. “I took to running as a way to relieve stress, decompress and let out my anger after Don passed,” She explains. She began attending Nike group marathon training runs in the Chicago area. She had never ran more than 5 miles previously, so she knew she was not prepared to run a marathon. However, when she went out to cheer her running buddies on at the Chicago Marathon, she knew instantly she would run the marathon in 2017.
As soon as the Chicago Marathon lottery opened up, Karla entered. She explains, “I knew I wanted to run for a charity. The first thing I looked for is a charity which supported pancreatic cancer. I wanted to find a group that would help to find a cure.” A little internet research introduced Karla to Project Purple and she was quickly welcomed into the Project Purple family. She has now completed two half-marathons as part of her training and will complete another one in September.
The Biggest Heart
Karla is both excited and frightened by the prospect of running her first marathon. She is certain of one thing, however: she knows she is running for a worthy cause and in honor of a beautiful and generous soul. “Everyone loved him,” she says of Don. “He had the biggest heart. If there was anything you needed, he was always there to help. I think that was the police officer in him. He was willing to give me the world. He always put himself second. Even when he was sick, he would ask me, ‘Are you OK, honey? Do you need anything?’”
As she faces the future without her soulmate by her side, Karla wants to prevent others from experiencing the loss she has endured. Her message is simple. “Pancreatic Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can affect you if you are a woman, man, young or old. Even if you are young and healthy, it doesn’t matter. I hope we can find a cure, better treatments and an early detection method.”
Please make a donation to Karla Loera’s Project Purple fundraiser in Don Corp’s honor. Click HERE