Lisa Whalen Inspired by Father to Run Chicago Marathon

Lisa Whalen grew up watching her father, Dr. Michael Cupic, care for and heal his patients. He was her hero and he worked hard to take away other people’s pain and suffering. She never imagined that one day she would watch him suffer as he battled a potentially fatal illness. Now Lisa is gearing up for her own battle. She will be running the Chicago Marathon in support of her father and his fight against pancreatic cancer.

Lisa, with her father Michael, mother Draga and husband Joe.
Lisa, with her father Michael, mother Draga and husband Joe.

Lisa’s father, Dr. Michael Cupic, is a pain management specialist who has treated his patients with kindness and compassion throughout his career at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital. Michael and his wife, Draga emigrated from Serbia to the United States in the 1960s. He worked first as Chief of Anesthesiology and then in pain management. Just four months after retiring from the medical profession, however, Michael found himself on the receiving end of pain management treatment.

Michael was prepared to fully enjoy his retirement. He and Draga had raised their two children, Michael and Lisa, and were now in their ‘golden years’. Shortly after his retirement, Michael started experiencing some back pain and slight weakness. On April 1st, 2016, he and his family were shocked to learn that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. No one else in their family had ever been diagnosed with cancer, and the news came as a devastating blow to everyone.

Lisa & Family Look For Treatment Options

Lisa, her brother and her mother worked feverishly to get Michael into a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Next, they went to MD Anderson in Houston. They were told that chemotherapy was the only treatment option. Lisa recalls, “My father has a very scientific mind and as a physician has treated many patients who have lived with severe chronic pain after trauma or disease. He has healed and helped so many amazing folks in his life of work, so it was rather odd for him to be on the other side, as a patient. But, he has accepted this role with tremendous dignity, grace, determination and understanding.”

The extended Cupic family
The extended Cupic family

Michael began chemotherapy immediately. “My dad is on FOLFIRINOX. The side effects have been rough on him. It’s a very toxic treatment, but the doctors felt it was the best option. He’s taking things in stride and we rejoice in the good days. We go for our first scan on August 1st to see how the tumors are responding. We remain hopeful,” Lisa explains.

Lisa’s Father’s Impact on Her Life

Lisa, who works as an advertising manager, is a married mother of two. She loves to travel and speaks several foreign languages, including Serbian. Her kids, Nicholas and Natalie, are extremely close to her father. One is even following in his grandfather’s footsteps by attending medical school. Lisa adds, “My dad loves to travel and he instilled that love in me for seeing the world. We took many amazing vacations together as a family and share incredible memories of childhood trips. He encouraged me to ski at a very early age and we took trips to the mountains to ski together. My dad traveled many miles with my kids as well, taking them to see very special places.”

As a child, Lisa fed her need for speed by competing in ice skating and downhill skiing. She loved the feeling of going fast on the ice and snow. As her kids grew older, she turned to a new sport: running. She found the transition from her other sporting activities to running to be fairly easy. She mostly ran distances of up to ten miles. She has always maintained a high level of fitness, but never contemplated running the marathon distance until her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Lisa is Called to Action

When her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Lisa knew right away that she needed to take some kind of action. She explains, “The time right around my father’s diagnosis was a total crazed blur, but I do recall a tremendous sense of clarity knowing that I had to do something, anything, and somehow got connected to Project Purple by word-of-mouth.”  Suddenly running a marathon seemed like an attainable goal. Inspired by her father’s battle, Lisa signed on to run with the Project Purple Chicago Marathon team.

Lisa Whalen running a race.
Lisa Whalen running a race.

Lisa finds that running for a cause gives her running a deeper meaning and a sense of purpose. “Having a goal in place keeps me focused and determined. I am working towards a greater good here,” she explains. Though she was at first reluctant to fundraise, she knows it is vitally important to raise money for pancreatic cancer research. “Yes, it was very hard for me to put myself out there for the first time to ask for donations, but I felt that this was the most meaningful way I could try to help someone out there who is affected by this terribly malady.”

Lisa fights for progress on the pancreatic cancer front

Lisa knows that time is of the essence in the race to help those with pancreatic cancer. She says,”I don’t know if advances will happen during my father’s lifetime, but perhaps there is someone who will benefit from my efforts in the future. If that is the case, I will have done my part, something decent for someone else so that they don’t have to suffer. And in this light, running has actually become easier because I am running for a much greater cause. It gives me wings I never knew I had. I fell pretty hard during a recent training session but got up and ran on with bruises and mud all over. I try to remember this saying anytime I feel a little lazy or sluggish before training: ‘Be stronger than your strongest excuse.’”

Lisa whalen race picture

Though Lisa does not know what the future holds for her father and her family, she is fiercely focused and determined to prepare as thoroughly as she can for the Chicago Marathon. When she struggles, she thinks of the man who is her inspiration. “He is incredibly compassionate, kind, caring and amazing father to me and my brother, Michael. He is an incredible husband to my mom, Draga and a super-devoted grandfather to my children. To me, he’s my magic man, that one person in the world who understands and accepts me on a level that no one else does. This speck of time that allows us to be alive in this universe blessed me with this human that I honorable call ‘Dad’. Words are limited and the love I have for my father really has no boundaries.”

Please make a tax-deductible donation to Lisa’s Project Purple Chicago Marathon fundraiser at the following link:

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