Katie Sullivan has had to face life without her father since he passed away from pancreatic cancer in 1995. John ‘Jack’ Kilgallen worked in a family travel business along with his brother, Paul, and his father, Ed. He was a hard-worker who supported his wife, Gina, and four children, Ed, Meaghan, Paul and Katie. “My dad was first and foremost a family man. I have memories of my dad coming home from work and all of us kids getting up and running to the door to jump on and hug him. He was gentle and kind and funny,” Katie explains. Katie was just 12 years old when she lost her father. Now she and her husband, Terence, are running the Chicago Marathon to honor the dad she lost so many years ago.
In the summer of 1994, John ‘Jack’ Kilgallen was planning to meet his wife, Gina, and children on vacation when he developed nausea, back pain and a fever. Though he had recently lost a little weight, he was otherwise a very healthy man who never complained about feeling sick. His family knew something must be seriously wrong for him to seek medical care. Jack’s doctor diagnosed him with a kidney infection and sent him home with an antibiotic. After a few days, Jack improved a bit and was able to join his family on vacation. Still, he had no appetite, no energy and just did not seem like himself.
A few days after returning from vacation, the family noticed that Jack’s skin had taken on a yellow hue. Gina is still haunted by the look on the doctor’s face as he examined her husband. Something was blocking Jack’s bile duct, causing him to become jaundiced. The doctor told the couple, “I am very, very concerned…not scared yet…but very, very concerned.” He added that they needed to schedule a CT scan as soon as possible. A week later, the family learned that Jack had stage IV pancreatic cancer. His liver was ‘pebbled’ with cancerous tumors which had spread from his pancreas.
Though the doctors knew they could not cure Jack of his metastatic pancreatic cancer, they quickly went to work trying to extend his life. Jack had surgery to try to reopen his bile duct in attempts to alleviate his jaundice. Following his surgery, he received chemotherapy treatments. Unfortunately, he was turned down from a clinical trial due to blood clots that had developed in his legs. At this point, any care he received was palliative care, designed to help make him more comfortable. Katie recalls, “My mom took such good care of him, and us, and was the rock hat held us all together during this time. He passed away 7 months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in March of 1995. He weighed just 85 pounds. I was 12 years old at the time.”
Life Without Dad
Over the years without Jack, Katie’s family drew closer together. Katie’s mother did everything she could to be both mother and father to her children. Still, there is much that Katie has missed out on over the years. She explains, “Obviously it is always hard when we have big milestones in our lives that our dad isn’t here for: graduations, weddings, the birth of my nieces and nephews, etc. But I feel like what I have really missed out on is just the day to day interactions kids have with their parents growing up: kissing goodnight, helping with homework, coming to my soccer games, making me laugh in just a normal dinnertime conversation, embarrassing me in front of friends, helping to pick a college and a major, or giving me advice on getting my first job. I know he would have loved Terence and I wish they could have known each other. I could go on and on but really, it is the day to day for me that I feel was lost.”
Katie Finds the Two Loves of Her Life
Katie played soccer most of her life and ran only to maintain her conditioning for her favorite sport. In 2006, Katie started running with a group of her colleagues at lunch time. It was through this lunchtime group that Katie met the two loves of her life: running and her future husband, Terence Sullivan. Terence, who worked for the same company, hated running but joined the lunch group because, as he says, “It was the best chance to get to know the girl that I knew I wanted to marry.” Katie left their company in 2008, right before Terence was scheduled to move to Hong Kong for a two-year assignment. She recalls, “The prospect of him moving so far away made me realize how much I loved being around him.” Now, ten years later, Katie and Terence are still together, and they are still running. “Running is something that Terence and I have been doing together since we met. We bonded over those lunch runs and it is so nice to do something together that keeps us fit and healthy.”
When they first met, neither Katie nor Terence intended to run races. However, many of their colleagues were avid racers who competed in events of all distances. Katie finally took the plunge and signed up for a 5K. “I started doing 5ks and really enjoyed it, thinking I could never do a 10K. Then I started doing 10Ks, thinking I could never do a half-marathon. However, our ‘coach’ and the other runners were so encouraging, I suddenly found myself signed up for a half! When I finished that first half-marathon, I knew I wanted to do a full one.” Katie fulfilled her marathon dreams in 2010 at the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia. Katie says, “It was one of the best feelings I have ever had, crossing that finish line under my goal time!”
Running For Project Purple
When Katie and Terence discovered that Project Purple is a charity partner with the Chicago Marathon, they felt that this would provide them with the best chance to fulfill a personal goal while raising money for pancreatic cancer research. Terence explains, “When the opportunity came up to run a marathon for a cause that was so near and dear to Katie and her family, it was too good to pass up. I have always regretted that I never got a chance to meet Katie’s father, so if there is something small we can do to raise some money in the hopes that another family does not have to endure a similar hardship, well, then that is a challenge I want to be a part of.” Katie looks forward to having the chance to help make a difference for other families, as well. “It always strikes me how little progress has been made in the fight against this cancer in the 21+ years since it took my dad. When we found out that Project Purple has a team in the Chicago Marathon, it was the perfect fit. We are so excited to run with the Project Purple team!”
Please make a tax-deductible donation to Katie and Terence’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following link: