Thirty years ago, when Michael Kahn was a freshman in high school, his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Mike was only 15 years old when he lost his dad. “When you are 15, you think of yourself as an adult,” Mike says. “But it was not until I became an adult that I realized how much of a loss it was for me. There were many milestones that my father missed and that I missed out on.”
Michael’s father, Jerry Kahn, had been overweight and diabetic for some time. He experienced some symptoms that were attributed initially to his diabetes. Jerry visited some relatives in Florida and they noticed that his eyes were yellow. Jerry’s doctor initially thought that he had hepatitis. When that was ruled out, the doctor ordered tests to look at Jerry’s gallbladder. That is when it was discovered that Jerry had a pancreatic tumor that was blocking his common bile duct. His diagnosis was pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
Jerry was told that chemotherapy would only provide him with a 2% chance of success. They debated whether attempting chemotherapy was worth it, but ultimately decided to not to attempt it. Desperate for any kind of miracle, Jerry tried things like following a special diet. He endured three surgeries intended to help alleviate his pain. Mike says, “I remember the final six months of my dad’s life as being extremely difficult.”
Jerry and his wife Sandy tried to keep life as normal as possible for their three kids. Mike and his twin brother, Rick, were sophomores in high school and their older sister, Lorri, was a freshman in college for the majority of their father’s illness. Mike remembers his father as a wonderful role model who often had a hard time saying ‘no’ to people. He was a very community oriented man who volunteered for many things. He was a volunteer EMT. He was a committee chair for the Boy Scouts. He won a community “Person of the Year” award for his numerous volunteer contributions in the community.
Mike remembers how his dad wanted to be present in his children’s lives, even when he was extremely sick. Jerry had an external port that Sandy had to clean every night before bed. Jerry insisted upon attending his sons’ Boy Scout camping trip, even though he was very sick and could not keep food down. He wanted his wife to teach Rick & Mike how to clean the port so he could go camping with them. Mike remembers his father as a man who loved his family ‘with every fiber of his soul, putting their needs above his own.
Losing his father at the age of 15 was very traumatic for Mike. It was not until he reached adulthood that he fully realized how much he missed out on by not having his father as he grew up. He thinks about his father on every major occasion. Mike missed his dad on his high school and college graduation days. When each of his three children were born, he wished his dad had been there to celebrate the occasion. When Mike got a promotion at work, he thought about how proud his father would have been. So many times over the years, Mike thought to himself, “I wish my dad was here to share this, because he would have been really proud.” Mike has missed out on being able to go to his dad for advice, and wishes that his father had gotten to meet his wife, Theresa. “I know my father would have really loved her,” Mike says.
Mike was a competitive swimmer in high school, but he drifted away from athletics as an adult. On his 35th birthday, Theresa gave him a membership to a local pool so he could start exercising again. A few years later, Mike’s brother Rick said that he was going to find a Turkey Trot for the family to run on Thanksgiving. Mike was not a runner, but Rick had run the New York City Marathon twice. The Kahn family entered and ran a 4.5 mile race that Thanksgiving. To his surprise, Mike enjoyed the race and thought that maybe he could be a runner after all.
He began incorporating running into his exercise program. In 2013, he ran a half-marathon, and in 2014 he ran the Adirondack Ragnar Relay with a 10 person team, which included his brother. His positive experience at the Ragnar got him thinking about running his first marathon.
Mike entered the New York City Marathon. Though he has done charity swimming events before, he did not think he wanted to run for a charity team. However, when he discovered Project Purple, with the motto of ‘Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer’, Mike felt that the charity really spoke to him. He soon applied for and was accepted to run with the NYCM team. Mike finds himself reflecting upon his father as he trains to run the marathon in his honor. “Just this morning on my run, I was thinking about my dad. Training for a marathon is like nothing I have ever done before. The whole thing has been a great experience.” One of the unexpected benefits of his fundraising efforts has been that his donors have opened up to Mike about their own experiences with cancer. He has been deeply moved by the outpouring of support from the people in his life as he has trained and raised money for Project Purple.
Jerry Kahn was still a young man when he passed away from pancreatic cancer 30 years ago. Mike says, “Dad was only 49 when he died. I was only 15. I feel like I have been extremely involved in my kids’ lives. I wonder in the back of my mind if it is because of how much my dad missed out on. I cherish every moment of being with my own children.” Losing his dad has helped Mike to focus on what is most important in life. For him, that means focusing on his family and, for now, running to honor the dad he lost much too early.
Please make a tax deductible donation to Mike’s Project Purple fundraising campaign at the following link: