“My uncle was so amazing. He was always there for me and my family. He even drove my mom to the hospital when my mom was in childbirth with me because my dad was stuck in traffic. He would take the shirt off of his back for anyone,” Gina Alvarez tells me, speaking with obvious deep love and affection for her Uncle Daniel Trucano. “He was always around. He came to every family function: graduations, communions, etc. He was always there. I was so close to him. One of the hardest things about him being gone is that I can no longer pick up the phone to call him or text him.”
In 2014, Gina applied for the New York City Marathon. She had previously run the Dallas Marathon, and though it was a challenge for her, she knew immediately after finishing that she wanted to run another marathon. Though Gina now lives in Dallas, she was born and raised in New York. Running in her home territory appealed to her, so she put her name in for the New York City Marathon lottery. At the same time that Gina was accepted into the marathon, her Uncle Dan became ill. At first he thought it was just a stomach illness that just would not go away. He put off seeing his doctor until he went in for his annual physical in March. The doctor thought that he had diabetes, but medication did not alleviate his symptoms. Finally, his wife, Kate, noticed that his skin had a yellow tint to it. She insisted that they go in immediately to see the doctor. It was then that Dan’s pancreatic cancer was discovered.
Dan underwent the Whipple surgery. Part of the head of his pancreas, part of his stomach and part of his liver were removed. Unfortunately, he developed serious complications from this very complex and difficult surgery. He was unable to eat and became malnourished. The doctors soon discovered that his cancer had spread to other areas of his body. Dan passed away on June 23, 2015, just months after his initial diagnosis. He left behind his wife, Kate, their three children, Daniel, Joseph and Jennifer, and a large extended family. Gina was devastated to lose her Uncle Dan. Unfortunately, this was not her first experience with pancreatic cancer. Gina previously lost her grandfather and a brother-in-law to the disease.
While Gina struggled to make sense of her loss, she kept thinking there must be something meaningful that she could do to honor her uncle. She considered several options, but nothing seemed like it was quite the right fit. She was already accepted into the New York City Marathon, so she decided that she could help others by stepping outside of her own comfort zone. Gina would fundraise for a pancreatic cancer charity. She looked around at the charity partners available and found pancreatic cancer charity Project Purple. She says, “I knew that this is what I wanted to do and I wanted to do it for him. Joining the Project Purple team was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Training for the Dallas Marathon was all about me. I thought that New York was going to be the same, but then I joined Project Purple and everything took on a new meaning.”
Gina started running in 2011, about six months after she had given birth to her son, Luca. She trained for a 5k with her best friend as a way to help lose her pregnancy weight. Since then, she has completed ten half-marathons. Her husband, Stephen, has also taken up running. Gina says, “Running is a big priority for both of us. I love that our son sees us running and racing. Running is a daily thing in our lives. We enjoy the health benefits of exercise and there is such a sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing a race finish line.” Gina first became interested in running the New York City Marathon when she watched her best friend run the race. “I was born and raised in New York and the New York City Marathon always seemed like the ultimate marathon. I thought it would never be attainable for me.”
On November 1st, 2015, just a few months after losing her Uncle Dan, Gina ran and finished the New York City Marathon, accomplishing something that had long been a dream of hers. She says, “I realized pretty early on in that race that, for me, New York should be enjoyed and not raced.” Gina ran with her friend, Bob, who was also running for a charity team. They decided not to worry about time goals and even stopped to take a photo with a police officer at the half-marathon mark. “We were in it together and were bonded by a shared determination to fight cancer. We were running for something much bigger than ourselves. Bob and I talked about the people who we were running for, and they were our angels and inspiration.” Gina adds, “One of the best parts of the marathon was seeing all of my spectators dressed in purple for pancreatic cancer. My aunt and cousins all thanked me for fundraising for pancreatic cancer and for honoring their dad. I told them that it was an honor and privilege to be able to do it.”
Gina enjoyed her experience so much that she is already thinking about returning to the New York City Marathon. “Fundraising for Project Purple has been so eye-opening. I have seen other people’s generosity and willingness to help out. I felt a real connection to the many people who supported me and shared their own stories of cancer. I am thankful I have experienced all of it.”
Please consider making a donation to Gina’s Project Purple fundraiser at the link below: