Kathleen Balducci will never forget the day in 2015 when everything changed for her family. It was about two weeks before Christmas. She had been exchanging text messages with her younger sister, Kelly, and her older sister, Heather. The three were discussing a possible shopping excursion later in the evening. Kathleen noticed that Heather was unusually quiet on the chat. Sometime mid-morning, she learned why. Heather sent out a text message explaining that she was in the Emergency Room with her husband, Mike, awaiting test results.
At Thanksgiving time, Mike had been complaining about stomach pain. He had been treated for ulcers and his doctor thought that perhaps the pains were caused by gallbladder problems. When Kathleen received Heather’s text, she assumed that Mike would be having his gallbladder removed. However, later that evening, Kathleen was summoned to a family meeting. Mike had been admitted to the oncology department of their local hospital. Kathleen, who works at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, reached out to her work community. “I asked any and every one I knew for help getting them in to see the specialist they were referred to. The wonderful people I work with came through. They had an appointment in less than 48 hours.”
Mike was officially diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to his liver. The doctors at Northwestern referred him to the University of Chicago, which was conducting pancreatic cancer trials. Unfortunately, Mike did not qualify for any of the University’s clinical trials. He currently receives chemotherapy every other week. Since his diagnosis, he has had two CT scans. The most recent scan showed his tumors were stable, with no growth. He is scheduled to have his final treatment on July 5th, 2016. If his tumors have responded to his treatments, Mike hopes to take a break from chemotherapy.
Kathleen has been incredibly moved by the strength and grace Mike has exhibited during his diagnosis and treatments. She says, “Mike has fought this with all that he has. I am constantly awed by him. He gets up and holds his daughter, Mary Helen, two days into his chemo. He sits with people who come to visit him. He jokes with my mom. He does all of this while dealing with the side effects of chemo. Days that Mike probably considers good days, he has pain that most people would consider intolerable.”
Originally from Rochester, NY, Mike moved to Chicago after graduating from college. He met Kathleen’s sister, Heather, four years ago and the couple wed over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013. Their daughter, Mary Helen, means everything to them and, as Kathleen says, “Is a sunny, smiling little girl!”
Kathleen thinks the world of her brother-in-law. She explains, “Mike is the big brother that I never had. He is never afraid to tell me how it is, or to call me out for being wrong. He has a great sense of humor, with a great delivery. He is the love of Heather’s life and the two of them seem to be able to work together through anything, even when they disagree. Finally, Mike is the most amazing father. In just two minutes of watching Mike with Mary Helen, it is so clear that he was destined to be a dad. Mary follows her daddy wherever she goes, and Mike just adores her.”
Kathleen Runs with a Purpose
Kathleen is gearing up to run the Chicago Marathon in honor of Mike’s battle with pancreatic cancer. She found Project Purple through the Chicago Marathon charity webpage. “There are lots of cancer-focused charities, but Project Purple really touched us. With the money raised going towards scholarships for children of pancreatic cancer patients, to financial support to patients, and most importantly, early detection and funding for research, Project Purple hits all of the targets,” Kathleen explains.
Running did not always come easily to Kathleen. In fact, she used to say that she would only run if something was chasing her. However, a few years ago, her sisters convinced her to train for and run the Nashville half-marathon. She says, “One finish line later and I was hooked! That was six years ago and five half-marathons ago!”
The marathon distance has proved to be a bigger challenge. In 2010, she had trained for a marathon but was unable to finish due to health concerns. In 2012, she discovered she was pregnant five weeks before marathon day. Her younger sister Kelly, who has two previous marathon finishes under her belt, will be running with Kathleen. Kathleen is determined to complete the marathon distance in Chicago this October. Every step will be inspired by Mike and his battle with pancreatic cancer. She says, “If I can summon even one ounce of the strength Mike has shown through his treatment, I will be running with the Kenyans on Marathon day!”
Kathleen has been overwhelmed by the support of friends, family and co-workers who have donated to her fundraising campaign. She explains, “It took me a week to write my thank you notes, because every time I started to draft it, I would end up in grateful tears for the support everyone showed me. It wasn’t just the money people gave. It was also the notes of encouragement that came with the donations.” Kathleen recognizes how important it is to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. “The statistics out there for survival of pancreatic cancer are devastating. The amount of funding going towards pancreatic cancer research is disappointing. I can only hope that the money I am able to raise to support Project Purple encourages more people, organizations and foundations to fund research and support finding a cure for this disease.”
Please make a tax-deductible donation to Kathleen’s Project Purple Chicago Marathon fundraiser at the following link: