Chelsea Hackett remembers the first races she ever completed. She and her mother, Rochanne Hackett, speed walked a 10K in Reno, NV called the Journal Jog. In running and in life, Rochanne passed along many life lessons to her daughter. “She was always emphasizing the value of physical activity. When I was little, she used to teach Jazzercise to myself and my classmates. My mother was the first in our family to complete a marathon, walking the Maui Marathon for charity,” Chelsea recalls. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Chelsea took up running in college. She soon decided that she wanted to run a marathon. In 2011, she fulfilled her dream of completing a 26.2 mile race at the Charlottesville Marathon, and thought that perhaps that would be the only one she would ever run. This year, however, Chelsea has found a new purpose in her running and she is preparing to run the New York City Marathon. She will not be running to satisfy her own “bucket list” goals. Rather, Chelsea will be running with Project Purple to honor the woman who inspired her to take up running many years ago: her mother, Rochanne.
Chelsea grew up in Reno, NV, where she enjoyed skiing, golf and tennis. She moved to New York City after attending college at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Chelsea relocated to New York City to pursue a Master’s Degree in Theatre, and she is currently working towards her PhD in Applied Theater at New York University. Chelsea is very passionate about theater and her work. She explains, “I am so fortunate to be able to work in a field that marries my interests and abilities, and allows me to write, direct, act, educate, perform and challenge the way people think about their world.”
In May 2014, the Hackett’s lives was turned upside down just prior to Mother’s Day when Rochanne was diagnosed with a tumor in her pancreas. Chelsea immediately returned from New York City, and was quickly joined by her sister, Cassandra, who had been in Vietnam. There, Chelsea, Cassandra, their father James, and their sister Shawna and her family all rallied around Rochanne. Within a week, the family’s worst fears were confirmed when they learned that their beloved mother had stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Rochanne was immediately put on FOLFIRINOX. This chemotherapy combination is notoriously difficult for some patients, and Rochanne endured her share of difficulties while on the regimen. In July, she ended up in the hospital with sepsis. “Showing her true strength and determination of spirit, she was able to come home once again and go to Lake Tahoe with our family. It was a miracle,” Chelsea declares.
The battle was not over for Rochanne and the Hackett family. Chelsea recalls, “In September, we went on the roller coaster ride that too many families know too well. Some of the tumors were shrinking, but others appears to have grown. We needed to wait to see whether or not they were being affected at all. After some time, we got the news we dreaded: The FOLFIRINOX was not working. We got second opinions. We got third opinions. Ultimately, my mother was determined to exhaust her options. She started her second chemo regimen, Gemzar/Abraxane, in October.” This chemotherapy protocol was not any easier for Rochanne. Within weeks, she suffered another blockage and a second sepsis infection. Though she survived the infection, it took a toll on her body. Rochanne had lost a great deal of weight and was unable to maintain her chemotherapy schedule.
The Hackett family made the decision that they would take one last family trip together to Hawaii. Chelsea remembers “Over Thanksgiving and her birthday, we were together as a family in Maui. I won’t say the journey wasn’t hard, but when my mother stuck her mind to something, she got it.” Chelsea is grateful that her family made this decision to travel together while her mom was still able to make the trip.
After enjoying some time away with her loved ones, Rochanne made the difficult decision to enter hospice. “My mom spent her final days surrounded by our entire family. Her grandchildren, who lovingly called her “Mimi”, were over almost every day, telling her about their adventures and kissing her,” Chelsea recalls.
Rochanne passed away on December 17th, 2014. Chelsea says of her mother, “She was the bravest, strongest, most determined person I have ever known. I can only hope to follow in her footsteps and live my life as boldly as she did.”
Rochanne Hackett had been an adventurous woman who enjoyed traveling the world. She worked for 20 years in the banking industry for Wells Fargo. She was also a tireless advocate for Native American tribes. She served as an Associate Member of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA). She devoted her energies to working to protect the financial interests of Native American Tribes as they moved into the gaming industry.
Chelsea reflects on what made her mother so special. She explains, “My mother was fearless. This came out in every area of her life, from working in a ‘men’s world’ of banking without a college degree and somehow rising to the top of her field, to parasailing, to being a single parent for a while. She was sharp-witted and the life of the party. Most importantly, she was honest. She cared about relationships and would be thoughtful about what was best for those she was friends with or working with, even if it wasn’t the best for her company or herself. The Native American Tribes that she worked with honored her to and past her dying day because of the strength that she exhibited and the honesty that guided her work.”
Chelsea was originally inspired to run by her mother. Her road to running marathons has been somewhat complex. She says, “I used to identify myself as “not a runner”. But something in me, likely inherited from my mother, told me that if I perceived it as something I couldn’t do, then I should try everything in my power to do it.”
Though Chelsea took a break from training after her first marathon, she has recently rediscovered a passion for running. Running provided an emotional “escape” for Chelsea as she dealt with the loss of her mother.
Living in New York, Chelsea was aware of the New York City Marathon, but she somehow considered it “unattainable”. She says, “Really, I just don’t think the time was right. This year, I reached out to Project Purple because I want the run to be about more than myself. I want to use my movement and actions as a platform to motivate others to change the status of pancreatic cancer. If I can help to prevent another family from experiencing what we did, then this will be worth it. At the very least, I want others to know that they are not alone.”
Chelsea adds, “Oftentimes, people see marathons as a massive triumph of the spirit. I hope that I can emphasize to those I know that the true triumph is the journey my mother took, and that which too many people are walking every day. The journey through uncertainty, pain, love, humor, joy, loss and acceptance that is “cancer”. If I can use my own body to shed light on that process, then this will be worth it.”
Chelsea set a fundraising goal of $6200. So far she has raised over $22,000. Please support Chelsea’s New York City Marathon fundraising effort, “Run For Rochanne”, by making a tax-deductible donation to her Crowdrise page: