Caitlin Krebs’ love and admiration for her aunt and uncle is apparent in everything she says about them. She describes her uncle David Hirt as a brilliant man whose quiet strength inspired others. She describes her aunt Bev Hirt as gregarious and wonderfully opinionated. Caitlin says, “They were married for 38 years. They balanced each other out. You could tell from the way they looked at each other that they loved each other. They were all each other ever needed.”
Caitlin’s family was dealt a cruel double blow by Pancreatic Cancer. Caitlin’s beloved Uncle Dave was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 2009. Defying the odds, Dave survived until the beginning of 2015. In 2014, Bev was also diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Caitlin’s close relationship with her aunt and uncle spurred her into action. After watching the devastating effects of this cancer on her family, Caitlin felt compelled to do something to change the trajectory of Pancreatic Cancer for future patients.
Dave Hirt was an attorney who worked for a bank. He was a man whose measured words and subtle influence made a big impression on the niece who adored him. Caitlin says, “He was the gentlest, kindest but most powerful person. He knew what to say succinctly to fix things. He was brilliant. He was the rock of our family.”
When Dave was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, her family knew little about Pancreatic Cancer and did not know that it can be an extremely painful and very deadly disease. The family set about learning as much as they could about Pancreatic Cancer treatments. Dave ended up undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgical procedures, including one in which half of his liver was removed.
In 2014, Caitlin and her family were devastated to learn that Bev Hirt, Dave’s wife, also had Pancreatic Cancer. The couple went to chemotherapy and radiation together. Though Dave had been living with Pancreatic Cancer for many years, his condition started to rapidly deteriorate in 2014. He had a stent placed in his bile duct and experienced complications from that surgery. By Thanksgiving time, he had become very jaundiced. The build-up of toxins in Dave’s bloodstream caused major fatigue, weakness of retention of fluids.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, when Dave went in for his radiation treatment, he was admitted to the hospital. Dave had a reaction to a medication that his doctor wanted to monitor. The doctor felt very strongly that he would get through his latest setback. Just three days later, he passed away. Even the doctor was shocked by how quickly Dave’s illness progressed. Caitlin remembers how Bev had just told Dave that her tumor marker numbers were down. He seemed to hang on until he heard good news from his wife. Caitlin was devastated by the loss of her uncle. He was one of the greatest influences in her life, and in the lives of so many others. She remembers one friend who spoke at Dave’s funeral. He told a story about how he had been working on his resume and he said the only “qualification” he needed was that “Dave Hirt considers me a friend.”
Seeing firsthand how cruel Pancreatic Cancer impacted Caitlin greatly. She had already run several road races and decided to put her miles to good effect. Caitlin had participated in Cross Country and Track when she was in high school. In college, she mostly ran for recreational purposes on her own. She says that she kept up with her running because it was something she did to help maintain her physical and emotional well-being. She ran her first marathon in 2011 and says she fell in love. Caitlin describes marathons as “horribly wonderful. You have moments where you hate it when you are doing it. But then you think, when can I do it again?”
In 2014, after her aunt had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, and while her uncle was in decline from the disease, Caitlin signed up to run the Wineglass Marathon as part of the Project Purple Pioneer Program. Caitlin had already run one marathon. Though she did not run her first marathon for a charity, she dedicated her race to her father, who is a disabled Vietnam Veteran. This time around, Caitlin wanted to run in support of Pancreatic Cancer research, because she had seen firsthand how much of an effect new therapies can have for this disease. She witnessed how Bev had access to some newer experimental treatments that had not been available to Dave. The Project Purple Pioneer Program was a perfect opportunity for Caitlin to fund raise at any race of her choosing. She had access to all of the support that Project Purple provides for the team events, but she could run at any race of her choosing.
Dedicating her run for a purpose helped Caitlin maintain her motivation through the training process. On those days that she did not feel like getting up at 5 am to run, she thought about the people she was running for and why she was running. Though she enjoyed running with a training partner, she also loved the times that she ran alone. She uses her solo training runs to get in touch with what is important to her. She spent many runs thinking about how sick her uncle became over such a short period of time. She says that her experiences have made her appreciate things so much more, and have made her want to become a better person.
Out of all of the many races she has run, Caitlin says that the Wineglass Marathon was her favorite. The day started off cold but ended up being beautiful. She wore purple and had purple streaks in her hair. Her mom and dad came to cheer her on, and every time she hurt, she reflected on the struggles her aunt and uncle were facing. She kept herself going by telling herself, “Their fight is immeasurably more difficult than this is!”
Caitlin loved the experience of running for Project Purple. The support she received from the organization was “wonderful”. She is now registered to run for the Project Purple team at the New York City Half-Marathon, which is coming up in March 2015. Caitlin Krebs is committed to helping further research into a cure for Pancreatic Cancer. She has seen firsthand how challenging this disease is for both patients and their families. Caitlin is hoping that through her commitment to running for Project Purple, she can help other families who are facing Pancreatic Cancer.
Support Cait’s fundraising efforts at her Crowdrise Page: