Runner Fabiola Epperly

Fabiola Epperly has been touched by Pancreatic Cancer more than once in her life. She knows first-hand the devastating impact the illness has on the lives of those it touches. In 2003, she sat by her former mother-in-law’s bedside as she took her last breaths after fighting pancreatic cancer for just four months. In an ironic twist, when Fabiola remarried, she learned that her husband’s mother, Angela Epperly, had also died from Pancreatic Cancer in 1999. Both of these tragic losses had a profound impact on Fabiola. She knew that she wanted to do something to help others affected by Pancreatic Cancer.

In 2002, Fabiola’s mother-in-law was experiencing severe stomach pains. By the time her Pancreatic Cancer was discovered and accurately diagnosed, it was already determined to be stage IV. Fabiola says, “It was shocking to the family to see how fast she got sick and how quickly she passed away. She was in extreme pain for her final month. It was an awful experience.” Fabiola’s mother-in-law was only 56 when she passed away in 2003.

Fabiola is now remarried to Marcus, who was only 25-years-old when his own mother passed away as a result of Pancreatic Cancer.

Angela Epperly
Angela Epperly

Though Marcus still has a hard time talking about his mother’s illness and passing, Fabiola knows that his mother, Angela, had made a death-bed request that Marcus take care of his younger siblings. Marcus went to court after his mom passed away and was awarded legal custody of his younger brothers, who were 11, 12 and 15 years old at the time. Still a young man himself, Marcus had to grow up very quickly as he assumed the role of father his younger brothers.

Fabiola and Marcus
Fabiola and Marcus

Fabiola knows the pain of losing a close family member, as she lost her own father at a very young age. Fabiola grew up in Tijuana, just south of the US border in California. Her father, Jorge Velarde, commuted to San Diego every day for work. His job in the US  provided a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and children. His company had offered him a poisition in Denver, Colorado, which he planned to accept. However, Fabiola’s father tragically passed away before he was able to take his new job and move his family to be with him.

Losing Jorge was a devastating blow to Fabiola’s family. Her mother, Yasmin, moved with her family to San Diego, CA. Fabiola was only 12 years old. This was a very challenging time for the entire family for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that Fabiola’s mother routinely worked 12 to 15 hour days, the family could not afford decent housing. They had to live in a low rent district, which was a world away from the middle class lifestyle they had enjoyed in Mexico. Fabiola and her brother Jorge did not know English when they first moved to the United States. She remembers being teased because of their poor English. Fabiola explains, “It was such a hard time, and add to that the loss of our father. We lost our youth very quickly.”

Despite the difficulty that she and her family faced, Fabiola did not give up. She quickly set about learning English and she excelled in school. Ultimately, she earned a degree from the University of Utah in Sociology, with a minor in Spanish. She says, “I owe everything to my mom. She worked so hard and still made sure she had time for her kids. Now I own my own home. I travel. You might say that I have reached the American Dream.”

Fabiola acknowledges how difficult it was for her when she first came to the United States. Fittingly, she now works for a school district as a social worker. She is tasked with helping others who have recently moved to the United States as they become assimilated into their new country. In the past she has worked with middle and high school students; now she works with adults.

About two years ago, Fabiola was enjoying her career, marriage and life as a new mother to son Ramses. However, she felt that she needed to make some changes to improve her physical health. She was often tired and felt that she needed to lose some weight and get in better shape. She first tried a boot camp class. She lost some weight and began seeing physical changes to her body, but she knew that it was not doing much to improve her cardiovascular health. So, she decided to take up running. Fabiola signed up for and ran her first 5k and loved it. She says, “I feel so free and at my best when I am running. I am a junkie for running and I just want to get into better shape so I can run more!”

Marcus, Ramses & Fabiola
Marcus, Ramses & Fabiola

Fabiola joined a local running group, which she has found to be a very good source of motivation. She enjoys the camaraderie of having a group to run with. She has run a number of races, culminating recently with a 15k. She decided that she wanted to run a half-marathon, and she knew that running for a cause she cared about would help to keep her enthusiasm from waning. Fabiola knew immediately that she wanted to support a Pancreatic Cancer charity. When she found that Project Purple had a team for the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, she took it as a sign that this was the race she was meant to run. It would bring her to Denver, the city her father was supposed to move the family to all of those years before, and she could support her chosen charity.

Fabiola racing
Fabiola racing

Fabiola continues to train for the half-marathon and she is also working to improve her diet and lose weight. The San Diego resident is a bit concerned about how running at altitude might affect her, but she is a tough woman who is no stranger to adversity. Every challenge that life has presented to Fabiola, she has handled successfully. The Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-marathon will be no different for her. Knowing that she is running for a cause that has affected her family so deeply will provide that incentive she needs to train and get to the finish line.

Please support Fabiola’s fundraising efforts by making a donation to her Crowdrise page:


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