“I feel shocked and confused,” Ron Shapiro, a software engineer for Google, says of his family’s experience with pancreatic cancer. Two members of his family have been diagnosed with the disease in recent years. As Ron prepares to run the New York City Half-Marathon with the Project Purple team, he reflects upon what motivates him. “Pancreatic cancer is so aggressive and doctors know so little about it. There are so many cancers that are treatable but treatments for pancreatic cancer are really lacking. The lack of understanding behind this disease is so tremendous. It would be great to be able to add to funding and research.”
Three-and-a-half years ago Ami, Ron’s father, was diagnosed with localized pancreatic cancer. Ron refers to his father as “Abba”, which means ‘father’ in Hebrew. Abba, an ophthalmologist, moved to the United States many years ago from Israel to practice medicine. An intellectually curious man, he instilled in his two sons the value of an education. He emphasized that education is something that stays with you always, no matter what else happens in life. Ron Shapiro explains, “Some of my father’s family was killed in the holocaust yet others escaped but had to leave everything behind. Acknowledging and remembering his family’s history inspires him to always want to learn. People can take away your physical items and your health can deteriorate, but no one can take away your mental capacities. The ability to think and learn allows you to overcome all of those things.”
Abba had always been a very healthy man who never showed signs of illness. He was so stoic that even if he had the flu, he never complained to anyone. When Abba went on vacation, he experienced stomach pain. Upon returning from his trip, he scheduled a visit with his physician. The doctor, a close friend, knew that it was highly unusual for Abba to seek medical care, so he ordered a battery of tests. Shockingly, his stomach ailment appeared be due to a tumor in his pancreas.
Since Abba’s tumor was localized, he was eligible for potentially curative surgery. Doctors removed approximately 2/3s of his pancreas. His surgery was followed-up with radiation and chemotherapy, just in case any microscopic cells had been missed. There was a sense of cautious optimism for Ami Shapiro’s future.
Unfortunately, Ami’s pancreatic cancer returned with a vengeance. His pancreatic cancer metastasized throughout his body. Ron says, “My dad always reminded me of Superman. He never let on that he felt uncomfortable or sick.” Since his cancer recurrence, Abba has had to remain on chemotherapy to keep his tumor markers in check. Over the last few months of difficult treatments, Ron has noticed that his father’s fatigue has increased. The cancer and the chemotherapy seem to be sapping Ami of his energy. While father and son were traveling to Israel recently, Ami experienced dizziness. When he returned to the United States following his trip, he learned that his cancer had now spread to his brain.
In a cruel twist, Ron’s Grandmother, Hilda, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer later the same summer. Her cancer was so advanced that there were no treatment options available to her. Fifteen years prior to her diagnosis, Granny had picked up and moved across the United States to live in California. There the strong and determined woman started a new life after her husband’s death. Unfortunately, she lost her life very quickly to pancreatic cancer, passing away just one month following her diagnosis. Ron says, “She passed so quickly that it was such a shock to everyone.”
For the last year, Ron has been inspired to raise money for pancreatic cancer research funding. As he has watched two family members battle for their lives, what he has learned about pancreatic cancer has been shocking to him. “I learned about the outcomes of pancreatic cancer pretty quickly and each milestone makes me thankful for the time I have had,” Ron explains.
Ron enjoys running and when he found Project Purple, he thought that racing with the team would be a good way to help raise money for pancreatic cancer research. Though he mostly runs shorter distances, he has signed up to run the New York City Half-Marathon. Ron explains, “Running the half-marathon seemed like an attainable goal and a good goal to have.” He has set his sights on raising $10,000 for Project Purple, adding, “I believe very strongly in setting high goals because even if they are not reached, setting your goals higher leads to greater success.”
For now, he watches his father battle, saying, “We take it a day at a time. I am a strong believer that science breakthroughs can have a large impact in our world. I am inspired at Google by the technical breakthroughs we make every day. The opportunity to be a part of that keeps me going.” It is the lessons he has taken from his father and from his work at Google that have shown Ron what scientific discoveries can mean for society. He hopes that by helping to provide more funding for research, he can help pancreatic cancer research scientists achieve the breakthroughs that his family desperately need for a cure.
Please make a tax deductible donation to Ron’s Project Purple New York City Half-Marathon fundraiser at the following link: