Project Purple Runner Tara Petrillo

When I spoke with Tara Petrillo, she and her husband, Chris, had only been married for a brief time. While she was happy to be married, she expressed sadness over the fact that her father-in-law, August Petrillo, had not lived long enough to be present at their wedding. “Augie”, as he was known to friends and family, battled pancreatic cancer for two years before passing away in 2009. The Petrillo family shared many stories with Tara about the patriarch they had all loved so dearly. Tara was moved by these stories and, in the process, she learned a great deal about the disease which took Augie from his wife and children.  “I never had the chance to meet my husband’s father, but I have heard about what a great man he was. Augie and his wife, Irene, wrote throughout his illness. By reading their writing, I have gotten to hear their point of view on things. Without him here, there is a huge vacancy in everyone’s hearts.” Tara continues, “I wanted to do something in his memory. I feel like running the New York City Marathon for Project Purple is a way for me to connect with Augie and keep his memory alive.”

Augie Petrillo with his sons, Chris and August.
Augie Petrillo with his sons, Chris and August.

August Petrillo was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007. On September 28, 2007, he had the Whipple procedure, where the head of his pancreas was removed and the remainder of the digestive tract was rerouted back together. Two days later, it was discovered that his hepatic artery, the main artery that goes through the pancreas, appeared to be blocked. This could have been a potentially fatal complication. Augie returned to surgery for an intervention aimed at making sure that the artery was allowing proper blood flow. Fortunately, he began improving after this second procedure. By October 1st,  Augie was moved out of the Intensive Care Unit and into a regular hospital room. Augie was still in a great deal of pain as he was recovering from his Whipple surgery, but he had not lost his sense of gratitude. He commented that he felt like he was staying in a hotel, because his hospital room had a beautiful view. He also did not lose his sense of humor. He joked that his new pipes were working well and he gave the ‘plumber’ an A+. Though the road to recovery was rough, he was released from the hospital by mid-October.

Irene & Augie Petrillo
Irene & Augie Petrillo

Augie was an owner and partner at the Petrillo Stone Corporation in Mt. Vernon, NY. He was so dedicated to the business he built that he returned to work in December 2007, even as he began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. His treatments were long and difficult, but an MRI in March, 2008 revealed no evidence of disease in his body. In April, 2008, the Petrillo family celebrated August’s one-year survival from pancreatic cancer. He was getting stronger and healthier every day, and the family was feeling cautiously optimistic. At the time, Augie wrote, “Together we will all get past this and on with our lives. ‘On with our lives’ sounds great to me! I could every day as a blessing.”


Over the summer of 2008, Augie began experiencing some back pain that doctors attributed to his radiation therapy. Augie, however, felt that the pain was similar to what he had experienced prior to his diagnosis. For several months, doctors tried to determine why he was experiencing pain, but they were unable to come up with any answers. Finally, testing in late 2008 and early 2009 revealed a cancerous mass near his kidneys. Doctors were unable to operate due to the fact that the tumor was located near a vital artery. Augie underwent an aggressive chemotherapy combination, but it began to take a severe toll on his body. He had already been struggling to maintain his body weight from previous treatments. He became so weak that by July, he could no longer work. Just a few weeks later, on August 12, 2009, Augie Petrillo passed away. His wife, Irene, and sons, August and Chris, were by his side. He had fought pancreatic cancer valiantly for two years. Throughout his battle, he always maintained his sense of humor and his positive attitude.

Augie & son Chris Petrillo
                 Augie & son Chris Petrillo

Tara’s husband, Chris, says that his father was his role model and represented the kind of father that he wants to be. He taught his children the value of a dollar, how to work and be responsible members of society. Chris tells Tara, “My dad taught me everything I know. He taught me how to be a good friend and how to be a good person.” Tara never got to meet her father-in-law, but she has heard about how wonderful August was and what a great blow his loss has been to his family. “I wanted to do something in Augie’s memory. I felt like I wanted to do something to connect with him and help keep his memory alive.”

augustphoto2 (1)

Tara and Chris were married at the Petrillo family beach house in September, 2015. Though it was a joyous occasion, Augies presence was greatly missed. Tara recalls, “It was a happy time, but when you think about your life, you picture certain people being there. There was a combination of being happy about the moment and really wishing Augie was there.”

Tara & Chris
                                                                    Tara & Chris
Tara & Chris's wedding
                                                                    Tara & Chris’s wedding

Tara, now an elementary school teacher, ran as a student in middle school and high school. Over the past ten years, she has run several half-marathons and one full marathon. As a Manhattan resident, she has always considered the New York City Marathon to be the ultimate marathon. Tara ran the marathon previously, and learned that the distance is a real challenge. She had a moment at mile 25 where she thought, “This is horrible and I will never do it again!” However, in time, memories of the pain of running a marathon began to fade and Tara began thinking she would tackle the distance again. She had a friend who had run a marathon for charity and she was inspired by her selfless actions. When Tara went to the expo for the New York City half-marathon, she met Dino Verrelli at the Project Purple booth. She immediately realized that this was how she would honor her husband’s father. She wanted to run the New York City Marathon with the Project Purple team. She told Chris that she planned to run the marathon for his dad and her declaration moved him to tears.

Tara & Chris

Tara read a lot of Augie’s personal writing and he has served as her muse through the process of training for her marathon. His positive outlook in the face of a devastating diagnosis has inspired her tremendously. In March, 2008, Augie wrote, “Today was uneventful. Uneventful is good! Boy, we really are getting old! (It definitely beats the alternative.)” A month later, he simply wrote, “Life is good!” What is remarkable about this is that Augie had just completed a very complicated surgery, followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation. He never let his circumstances get him down. Augie was happy to be alive and spending time with his family.

On November 1st, 2015, Tara finished the New York City Marathon in memory of Augie Petrillo. She had an incredible experience being a part of the Project Purple team over race weekend. She explains, “Dino makes each runner feel special and it solidified my decision to run for Project Purple.” Tara explains her race experience, “This race had an entirely different feel than the last time I had run the New York City Marathon because I was doing it for a person and for a reason. Over the past few months people from all different areas and times in my life reached out to support this cause. I felt like I was actually making a difference in this fight. After the race, I told Chris that at the last stretch before re-entering Central Park, his dad popped into my mind. It is funny because at that point in a marathon, your brain starts to turn to mush and you are generally focusing on moving one foot after the other. But, in the midst of all of that, an image of Augie popped into my head. I was reminded of what he went through and why I was doing this. I remembered Dino saying that when the going gets tough, remember ‘it’s not as hard as chemo.’ Everything just kind of clicked. Sure, a marathon is hard, but in comparison to the pain and suffering that people go through from this awful disease, it’s nothing.”

“After getting lost in my thoughts surrounding this, the next thing I knew, I heard my parents, Chris and Irene yelling my name from the finishing stands. They were all wearing Project Purple gear and crying. I crossed the finish line smiling and feeling accomplished. I knew Augie was looking down and smiling, too.”

tara finish

Tara finishing the NYCM
                                    Tara finishing the New York City Marathon

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