Tammy Marquis grew up in a large Italian-American family. Her best friends during her childhood were her siblings and numerous cousins. One of those cousins was named Susan Jaciow. As children, Tammy, Susan and the rest of the cousins all worked together in the family’s farm business. They were constantly at one another’s homes. Tammy remembers Susan, who was six years older, as being larger than life. “Susan was a unique person. She would wear mismatched socks and huge earrings and had the best hair. I was always in awe of Susan. She always said and did what she wanted, and I wanted to be like her.” Susan was a very giving and loving person. Though she had no children of her own, she was a doting aunt who earned the nickname Auntie Em from her nieces and nephews, after the sweet aunt in the Wizard of Oz.
In February of 2011, Susan began waking up in the middle of the night with indigestion. She saw a doctor who treated her for what was believed to be acid reflux. When her symptoms did not improve, Susan was referred for an ultrasound. Testing showed a mass in Susan’s pancreas. She was quickly referred to Massachusetts General Hospital. In April of 2011, Susan was officially diagnosed with inoperable Pancreatic Cancer.
Susan began chemotherapy and radiation treatments right away. Her doctors were hoping to shrink her tumor enough so that they would be able to operate and remove it. By December, they felt confident that they could now attempt the surgery. Susan underwent the Whipple procedure, and the head of her pancreas was removed. Her doctor found that he was still unable to remove the entire tumor, so Susan also received targeted radiation therapy to kill the remaining live cancer cells.
In January of 2012, Susan was told that her doctors believe she would be cancer free for several years. Susan suffered from some severe gastric problems following her surgery. Gastric dumping is a fairly common post-Whipple complication and this proved to be an ongoing challenge for Susan. In June of 2012, Susan’s doctor approached her about having her chemotherapy port removed. She requested a CT scan prior to having the port taken out. Susan received the devastating news that she now had pancreatic cancer lesions in her liver. She now had Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. Susan would be on chemotherapy for the rest of her life, in hopes of suppressing the spread of the cancer.
By the spring of 2013, Susan had grown quite frail. She had tried to hang on to her strength so that she could help her elderly parents. Unfortunately, her cancer continued its destructive march through her body. Susan passed away in August of 2013. Susan’s passing was a crushing blow to all who knew her.
In 2014, Tammy Marquis was presented with the opportunity to do something significant to honor her cousin’s memory. By a stroke of luck, and with little time to prepare and fundraise, Tammy got a spot on the Project Purple Boston Marathon team. Tammy had felt so helpless while Susan battled Pancreatic Cancer. Now she had the ability to fight back against Pancreatic Cancer in a meaningful way.
Tammy’s original athletic love was hockey. She played on the women’s team while she attended UVM. As an adult, she turned to running for exercise because she found that she could fit it in with her work and family commitments.
Tammy had previously run a couple of half-marathons but by 2014, Tammy thought that she might like to run a full marathon. Since she has deep roots and connections to Boston, the Boston Marathon appealed to her. She also believed that if she was only going to do one marathon, it might as well be a big one. She thought that if she could find a charity that meant something to her, she would apply to run through a charity spot. Tammy found Project Purple and knew that she wanted to be a part of its team.
Unfortunately, Tammy soon learned that all of the charity spots through Project Purple were already filled. She asked to have her named added to the wait-list and began training for a different marathon. In March, Tammy got a call from Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli asking if she would still like a spot for the marathon. Tammy was juggling a lot of personal and professional issues at the time, and she was concerned that she might not have time to fundraise in the five weeks that she had prior to the marathon. Still, she really wanted to run the Boston Marathon with the Project Purple team, so she put aside her fears and signed on. As Tammy says, “It was part of what I learned from Susan. There is no time like the present. Use each moment to be your best.”
Looking back, Tammy feels like things worked out in the best possible way. She went from worrying about fundraising to feeling overwhelmed by the generosity of the people in her community. Customers would come into her family business, Randall’s Farm, and make donations in Susan’s memory. Fellow gym members donated to her. People she did not even know came up to her to make donations in Susan’s honor. Tammy recalls how people would say to her, “We are so proud of you. Susan would be so honored by what you are doing.” She says, “It was so much more than just doing a marathon. I had never been part of an organized fundraising event like this before. I gained more from my Project Purple experience than I could ever possibly give back.”
Tammy describes the Boston Marathon as “amazing”, even though she did not run as fast as she thought she would.
At a certain point in the race, she realized that she really needed to just take in the whole experience. She stopped looking at her watch and focused on the spectators, the volunteers and the members of her family who had come out to support her. One of the best parts of the entire marathon experience was hearing her own daughters say, “We are really proud of you, Mom.”
Tammy says, “Every day I think about how lucky I was to participate in the Boston Marathon with Project Purple. I honestly could not think of a better way to do the marathon. I made so many friends along the way.”
Please visit Tammy’s Crowdrise page to learn more about her story and to make a donation to her fundraising campaign.