Hearing Jill Boterus talk about her stepfather, Michael Hakim, is deeply moving. You can hear the love and deep regard she has for Michael very clearly in her voice. She says, “In our family, we regard the word ‘step’ very preciously. For many people, the word means ‘a step away’. For our family, step means a step closer. Even though I am very close to my father and am a daddy’s girl, I am also a step-daddy’s girl. Michael danced with me at my wedding after my dance with my dad.” Jill Boterus lost her beloved step-father to pancreatic cancer on August 29, 2015, just 11 months after he was diagnosed with the disease. “My stepfather means the world to me. I am so heartbroken,” Jill says. Though her loss is still painfully recent, she is training for her first full-marathon, the New York City Marathon, to honor her Michael. “I literally feel like I am running with angels. I cannot tell you how important this is to me.”
Michael Hakim was a wealth manager who loved art, dancing, the beach and the beauty of nature. He also loved his family deeply. When he married Jill’s mother, Claire, the couple brought together a blended family with six children between the two of them. Michael doted on Jill’s two daughters, Brooke, 8, and Lindsay, 7. “They called him Papu, which is the Turkish name for grandpa. He attended all of their dance recitals. He was mad for my girls,” Jill remembers. His love for Claire was epic, according to Jill. He would do anything to keep his beloved wife happy.
Prior to receiving his official diagnosis, Michael saw a GI doctor who noted a small spot in his pancreas. Unfortunately, the doctor believed it was a simple cyst that was not clinically significant. Michael continued to have symptoms, and in September, 2014, he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer had already spread to his liver, so he was ineligible for potentially curative surgery. Jill says, “I became really upset. We had a chance at early diagnosis and it was missed. It is infuriating.”
To add insult to injury, Michael developed a terrible infection after having a biopsy of a tumor in his liver. His infection rendered him ineligible for any clinical trials. His only treatment option became traditional chemotherapy. Michael continued going to work for as long as he was able. In August, 2015, he entered hospice so that he could get round-the-clock treatment. Eventually, he had to be hospitalized. The family gathered around him and asked Michael what his legacy was. He replied, “I never met anyone I didn’t like. I can always find the good in someone.” Jill says, “To say he was beautiful inside and out is an understatement.” Michael passed away just 11 months after receiving his diagnosis. His family is devastated by the loss.
Jill already had entry to the New York City Marathon when Michael received his diagnoses. After hearing the news, she recalls, “I wanted to run it not just for my own glory or achievement. I realized that I could run for a pancreatic cancer specific charity.”
Jill has not been a life-long runner. “I was one of those kids who was confused. I thought the cool thing was to smoke cigarettes and hang out. I had to learn later in life how to take care of myself.” Jill originally started to exercise as a means for managing her weight. “I hated running. I hated it. I was still a smoker and living in New York City, so running was a joke to me. I could make it maybe half a block.” Jill was 36-years-old when she met Don Boterus, who is now her husband. It was then that she successfully quit smoking forever. When Jill began having children, she became serious about losing weight and improving her health. “I was now a non-smoker for 8 years. My attempts at exercise were more successful. I had a girlfriend who showed me how to improve my running ability. She pushed the speed arrow up on the treadmill and I found that running faster was exhilarating. I saw I could do it.”
As Jill got more into running, she signed up for races with her friends. She ran a 5k, a five miler and a half-marathon with her girlfriend. She signed up for a second half-marathon, which she ran on her own. It was then that she started contemplating a full marathon. New York City was the race that Jill really wanted to run.
Marathon training has proved to be both a challenge and a motivation for Jill. Though running had kept her weight down, she had taken an extended break from the sport. “I really was completely deconditioned when I started my marathon training,” Jill explains. “I had a two year period where I lost the stronghold on my health and my weight. However, I had those two half-marathons under my belt and I knew that I could do it. When I started training, I couldn’t even run an entire mile. Now I am getting ready to do 18-20 mile training runs.”
Jill believes that each of us has to choose to be a healthy person. “Not everyone trains for marathons. It is something very special. My family is incredibly proud of me,” Jill says of her decision to run the marathon for Project Purple. “They can’t wait for race day. Michael himself was very proud. Several months ago, he made a big donation to my fundraiser.” As Jill does her long runs, her husband, Don, often rides his bike alongside of Jill. Daughters Brooke and Lindsay cannot wait to see mom cross the finish line. As for Jill, she is filled with mixed emotions. “I am very excited for the race. It is bittersweet, though. What you really want is your loved one to be there.” Michael will not be there to see Jill cross the finish line on November 1st, but Jill hopes that by raising money for a cure, she can prevent another family from experiencing what hers did. Jill explains, “Just the fact that pancreatic cancer is so difficult to treat puts it on the bottom of the totem pole, priority-wise, instead of the top. It should be at the top of the totem pole.”
Please make a tax deductible donation to Jill’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following link: