A Pancreatic Cancer diagnosis has a profound impact not only the patient and immediate family. It also has a tremendous effect on the patient’s circle of friends. Sarah Gross learned about this devastating illness last year when her close friend, co-worker and running partner, Gina Cyza, was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.
Sarah Gross grew up in Wyoming. In high school, she ran for the cross-country and track teams. Sarah found running in circles on the track to be boring. She preferred getting out and testing herself on the varied terrain of the cross-country courses. While working towards her teaching degree, Sarah fueled her competitive nature by playing collegiate basketball. Sarah returned to running recreationally after she graduated from college. She found running to be the perfect sport to help her maintain the fitness level she had attained through playing collegiate sports.
In 2011, Sarah moved to Omaha, Nebraska where she took a position as a student teacher in the Elkhorn Public School district. After completing her student teaching, she was hired as a permanent kindergarten teacher. Sarah loves her job and soon found that she had developed a close bond with her two teaching teammates, Gina and Tia. The two women quickly became her friends both at work and outside of school. As they got to know one another, Sarah and Gina discovered that they shared a mutual love of running. They became running partners, logging countless miles together. Sarah says, “Every race I ran, I ran with Gina. Gina loves running.”
In 2014, Gina and Sarah signed up for the Lincoln half-marathon.
Sarah is a competitive person by nature and loved the race experience, but her favorite part of running was getting to train with Gina. The two women supported and motivated one another. They agreed to meet to get their training runs in, no matter the weather or conditions outside.
In the fall of 2014, Sarah recalls how Gina began complaining of stomach pains. At first, Gina thought that perhaps something in her diet was bothering her. Despite making several dietary changes, the abdominal pains persisted. After suffering recurrent fevers for two weeks, Gina sought medical advice. Shockingly, she received a diagnosis of Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. Gina was blind-sided by the diagnosis, as were her friends. Sarah recalls knowing little about Pancreatic Cancer. She turned to her fiancé, a medical student, for information and he was able to help her understand her friend’s disease.
Gina had to begin a very difficult chemotherapy regimen shortly after her diagnosis. This necessitated that she take a leave of absence from the teaching job she so loves. Her kindergarten teammates, Sarah, Tia, and Suzy, have greatly missed having Gina at school. As teammates, the women spent a great deal of time meeting to discuss work. Sarah has deeply missed being able to chat with her friend on a daily basis. She explains, “I miss those everyday things that I once took for granted.”
The entire school community has felt the pain of Gina’s absence. The staff and school community has rallied together to support Gina in her time of need. Along with Gina’s close friends and family, they organized a fundraiser not long ago to benefit Gina’s family. The staff sends cards and email messages to Gina routinely, because they want her to know that she is still part of their family, even if she cannot be physically in the building.
As much as Sarah has missed having Gina at school, she has missed her all the more on her training runs. Gina was Sarah’s “go-to” running partner. If the weather was bad, Gina encouraged Sarah to get out the door to meet her anyway. Sarah has fond memories of their experience at the Lincoln half-marathon last year. She was reluctant to sign up in 2014 because she knew that Gina, her friend and running partner, would not be able to train with her this year. Sarah did not want to think about running without her friend.
Gina’s positive attitude in the face of adversity has inspired Sarah. Sarah explains, “Gina has been so positive about the situation. She will do whatever she needs to fight her cancer, and stay strong and healthy.”
As Sarah watched her friend fight Pancreatic Cancer, she realized that Gina would not want her to change the way she lives her life. Ultimately, Sarah decided that this year she will be toeing the line at the 2015 Lincoln Half-Marathon to honor Gina. Sarah says, “I wanted to support Gina, and I wanted to do something that would take a lot of effort. This year I will run for Gina because right now Gina cannot run.”
Although Sarah has found it challenging at times to train without Gina, she thinks of her friend whenever she needs to find motivation. Watching Gina battle Pancreatic Cancer has taught Sarah to try to find the positive in each day. She reminds herself that she is doing this for her, and that she is fortunate because she is able to run. She looks at her training in a completely different light. Instead of feeling like the training is a burden, she feels grateful that she is able to do it to honor her friend.
Sarah longs for their lives to return to what they were before Gina was diagnosed with cancer. She misses having her dear friend at school and she hopes that she will be running with Gina again in the near future. For now, Sarah will keep training, running and doing all she can to help raise awareness for Pancreatic Cancer and Project Purple.
You can support Sarah’s fundraising campaign by clicking on her Crowdrise link: