Marci Czel is running the New York City Half-Marathon this year with the Project Purple team. As she has done in the past, Marci is running to honor her mother Jeanne, who passed away from Pancreatic Cancer on July 23, 2014. This year, Marci is not running alone. Marci is expecting her first child. Her baby would have been Jeanne’s first grand baby. The baby’s due date is July 24, 2015, nearly a year to the day of her mom’s passing. As Jeanne had so often coordinated many of the wonderful events for the Czel family while she was alive, Marci cannot help but feel that her mom somehow orchestrated one more special day after her passing. Marci will not be “racing” the New York City Half-Marathon. Rather, her goal will be simply to finish the half-marathon. Marci carries her baby knowing that her mom somehow had a hand in making sure that Marci and her wife Julie would have something wonderful, healing and life-affirming to focus on as the anniversary of Jeanne’s death approaches.
Marci and Jeanne Czel always enjoyed a close bond. The mother and daughter pair even shared the same birthday. Marci remembers her mom as a genuine and supportive person who could always find a way to connect with people. Jeanne was a woman who truly cared about others. She had a knack for asking the right questions so that she could quickly get to know people on a deeper and more meaningful level. Through her naturally encouraging and inquisitive demeanor, she made an impact in the lives of those around her. Marci explains, “She had her own way of going through life that was very positive. She enjoyed every day and was always going to always make the best of things.”
Jeanne Czel had always been a very energetic, active and healthy woman. She and her husband Ritt operated a marina and boat sales business for many years. Jeanne’s optimistic and outgoing personality made her a natural saleswoman. In addition to running their business, the Czels were devoted parents. Marci remembers how her parents attended all of her and her brother’s activities, saying, “She and dad never missed anything.”
In 2011, Jeanne began experiencing some episodes of indigestion and acid reflux. She was not alarmed by her symptoms, however. In fact, she had joked, “I guess this is what happens when you get old.” Unfortunately, the cause of her symptoms was, in fact, quite serious. Testing revealed that she had pancreatic cancer, which had spread to her liver and her duodenum. On July 21, 2011, Jeanne was officially diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.
Jeanne handled the news in her typical style. She never felt sorry for herself and was determined to continue to remain active and enjoy her life. Though Jeanne had always been such a positive force, her life had not been without pain. In 1998, her son Erik had died by suicide at the age of 22. Jeanne Czel had already experienced the worst imaginable pain in her life. Facing and fighting cancer was not something that would break her.
Jeanne was first treated with the chemotherapy combination FOLFIRINOX. At the time that Jeanne received FOLFIRINOX, the chemo regimen was still in clinical trials. At first, the treatments were very hard on Jeanne. She was very ill from both the cancer and from the chemotherapy. She suffered from gastrointestinal side effects and developed severe neuropathy in her hands and feet. As the chemotherapy did its job, her tumor markers began to decline and Jeanne began to feel better physically.
In 2012, as her tumor markers dropped and her health improved, doctor told Jeanne that she was in remission and could take a break from the chemotherapy. Jeanne took advantage of this time by travelling as often as she could. She went to Italy twice, she took a cruise, and she made it a priority to spend time with family and friends.
Over time, Jeanne’s tumor markers began rising again and she had to go back on chemotherapy. Despite having to return to treatment, the year 2013 brought joy to the Czel household as Marci and her partner, Julie, planned their upcoming wedding. Jeanne was so thrilled by how happy Julie made her daughter. She thoroughly relished the time she was able to spend with Marci and Julie as they planned the wedding together. Marci recalls how her mom looked radiant, smiling ear to ear the entire day of the wedding.
In January of 2014, however, Jeanne’s health took a turn for the worse. The FOLFIRINOX had stopped working, so she had to look for other treatment options. Jeanne began taking the chemotherapy combination of Gemzar/Abraxane. She had tried to avoid that particular treatment because she had not wanted to lose her hair. Though she did lose much of her hair, Jeanne made an effort to look nice on the day she went to chemo. This was her way of mentally preparing for the battle she knew she would face. Marci recalls how despite the difficult treatments, her mother always looked beautiful and never complained.
By the middle part of 2014, Jeanne started experiencing difficulty with her breathing. It was discovered that she had blood clots in both lungs and throughout her body. Over July 4th weekend, Jeanne had to be hospitalized. When her condition improved, Jeanne was sent home with an oxygen tank. She remained at home for about a week, but continued to experience difficulty with her breathing. Jeanne was readmitted to the hospital and passed away just six days later on July 23, 2014. Marci recalls how her mom applied her sense spirit of determination, kindness and competitiveness to fighting cancer. Jeanne was not going to stop treatment or give up her fight. When her doctor and her infusion nurse told her that there was nothing left that they could do, Jeanne was genuinely surprised. She had continued to believe right up until then that she would be going back home. Four hours later, Jeanne went to sleep and never woke up again. Marci believes that her mom made a conscious decision to let go, because she did not want her family to go through a long, drawn out ending.
Losing her mom was devastating to Marci. She was comforted by the great outpouring of love the community showed towards her mother both during her illness and after her death. When Jeanne was sick, there was a constant flow of visitors coming to be by her bedside. After her passing, Marci took solace in being able to genuinely tell so many people, “My mom told me about you!” Jeanne had truly loved connecting with people, and Marci could see that the feeling was mutual.
Marci, a life-long athlete who played basketball at University of Connecticut, has chosen to honor her mother by running for Project Purple. Over the last several years, Marci has participated in triathlons, bicycle and running races. She has raised money for a number of causes over the years but Marci feels like she has found a family in the Project Purple organization. She counts Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli among her close friends and loves the close-knit feel of the organization. Marci ran the Marine Corps Marathon for Project Purple in 2013.
This year, she chose to run the New York City Half-Marathon because it holds special meaning for her. In 2014, the New York City Half-Marathon was the last race that her mom got to see her run.
Marci explains why she has been involved with charities like Project Purple over the years, “A big impetus of why I’m involved in these organizations is the people I meet along the way. We can not only share our experiences, but can help one another get through. None of us signed up to be a part of these cancer clubs, but I feel a strong obligation to be involved to do anything I can to help those that are currently going through these incredibly tough times, and those that might have to face them in the future.
In March, Marci will be running and thinking of her mom, Jeanne Czel. Jeanne, the woman who so dearly loved life and connecting with others, will be with Marci and her growing grand baby in spirit as they complete the race. Marci feels with all of her heart that her always-smiling and unconditionally supportive mother is still present in her life. Marci knows that no matter what, Jeanne has done her magic to bring the baby into her life so that they all can focus on healing during what would otherwise be a time of sadness.
Support Marci’s fundraising efforts at her Crowdrise Page: