“My mom was very loving. She had a contagious smile and was always smiling. She was very friendly and she made people feel welcome. She had a warm quality to her. Everybody she met loved her,” Sandra Timpano says of her mother, Martha Jansen. “She was also very inspiring,” Sandra continues. “She battled pancreatic cancer for eight-and-a-half years.” Martha’s incredibly long fight against pancreatic cancer is the driving force behind Sandra’s decision to run the Big Sur Marathon with the Project Purple team. The San Bernadino County resident adds, “I wanted to run this race because being closer to nature reminds me of my mom.”
Martha was a foreign exchange student from Mexico when she met Iowa-native John Jansen. They were in their early 20s and quickly fell in love. They married and eventually went on to have six children together. Sandra was the youngest. “My mom called me ‘Sandrita’ because I was the baby of the family.”
A devout Catholic, Martha worked for 25 years as the Director of Religious Education at the Immaculate Conception Church. She capped off the final 5 years of her 30-year career at the church by serving as the Director of Volunteers. Because of her long-standing relationship with the church, Martha developed many strong connections within their community. Sandra explains, “Everywhere we went, people knew my mom. Everyone knew her from church. There were people we would meet who remembered her from their youth 25 years ago. They remembered how nice she was and were always excited to see her.”
In the summer of 2006, Martha developed stomach pains and gastrointestinal distress. She first attributed it to picking up a bug while she vacationed in Mexico. After losing a great deal of weight, she knew that she needed to seek medical care. Martha had a colonoscopy and other testing. The doctor noticed a spot in her pancreas. Martha was referred to a gastroenterologist for an Endoscopic Ultrasound. Though the doctor did not see anything he was concerned about during the EUS, the procedure caused damage to her duodenum. “That took months for her to recover from,” Sandra remembers.
Martha ultimately went to UCLA for another Endoscopic ultrasound. The doctors there found what they initially believed was a cyst. They recommended she have the Whipple surgery to remove the growth. On March 5, 2007, Martha went in for her Whipple. When the surgeon opened her up, he realized that the growth that they saw not a cyst but a cancerous tumor. Unfortunately, it was apparent that the tumor had invaded the major blood vessels of the pancreas. The surgeon aborted the operation and closed Martha back up. She was officially diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer.
The family was devastated by the diagnosis, but they quickly took action. In April, 2007, Martha started chemotherapy with hopes of shrinking her tumor enough that it might be removed surgically. By October, 2007, her tumor had shrunk enough for her to be able to finally have her Whipple. The family was ecstatic because surgery offers the only real hope for a cure for pancreatic cancer. Following her surgery, Martha restarted chemotherapy in order to eradicate any potentially remaining cancer cells. She had CT scans every three months to monitor any potential tumor activity.
For two years, Martha’s scans looked good. Then, in 2009, they discovered tumors in her liver. Martha now had stage IV pancreatic cancer. Desperate to save Martha’s life, doctors tried high frequency ablation on the tumors in her liver. The procedure was deemed to be a success and Martha took a break from her chemotherapy.
In 2013, the family experienced another devastating blow: they learned that Martha’s cancer had returned and begun to spread. It was found in her abdominal cavity, her liver, lungs and other parts of her body. She continued with chemotherapy in hopes of slowing and even reversing the tumor growth. In April, 2015, Martha began experiencing terrible headaches. Because she had just changed medications, it was believed that perhaps the headaches were a side effect from the medication. Unfortunately, she also began exhibiting signs of memory loss and difficulty with language. Ultimately, a spinal tap showed that her cancer had metastasized to her spinal fluid. Martha came home from the hospital on May 10th, 2015. She spent four days in hospice. During her time in hospice, her family surrounded her with love, praying for her, singing to her and talking with her. Martha passed away on May 15th, 2015, surrounded by her husband and her six children.
Martha fought her cancer with everything she had for 8.5 years. “My mom dealt with a lot, but because her body was able to respond well to the chemotherapy, she was able to see and do so many things,” Sandra explains. Every milestone in life was extra-special, because the family knew they were on borrowed time. Martha enjoyed the time that she got to spend watching her grandchildren, Avery and Gavin, as they grew up. When Sandra got married in September, 2014, she was thrilled that her mother had lived to see her special day.
Sandra remembers the incredible bond that her parents shared. John and Martha were married for 49 glorious years. “My dad was by her side throughout the whole thing. He drove her to UCLA, which was an hour away, and went to every chemo appointment. Their relationship was incredibly strong and close. It was beautiful.” Sandra derives comfort from knowing that her mother lived her live to the fullest, even while undergoing chemotherapy. “She got back into painting and painted a picture for each one of her children. She loved to garden. She played tennis on the weeks she was off chemo, and made multiple trips to Mexico to visit her family.”
Sandra knew that she wanted to do something big to honor her mother’s battle against pancreatic cancer. She had run for a charity once before. She knew that she wanted to raise money for the fight against pancreatic cancer. She learned about Project Purple and was ready to sign on to a marathon team in November, 2015, when she learned that she was pregnant. She thought that her pregnancy was a sign from her mom, and that her unborn child was her mom’s way of watching over her. Sadly, she miscarried two months later. Instead of letting this second loss paralyze her, Sandra let it fuel her in the fight against the cancer that took her mother. “Once I lost the baby, I realized I had to run. Everything happens for a reason. I can do the Big Sur Marathon for my mom.”
Sandra took up running as a way to stay in shape ten years ago. She enjoys being outside and would much rather run in nature than go to the gym. “None of my family or friends run. I run by myself,” Sandra says. She enjoys the solitude and time to reflect. Sandra completed one other full marathon back in 2010, the LA Marathon. She also has completed a half-marathon in Kona, raising $4,000 for the pancreatic cancer charity Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in the process. Big Sur, noted for the spectacular beauty of its course, will be the perfect race setting for Sandra to run in honor of her nature-loving mother. Sandra’s husband, father and sister will be traveling to the race with her to cheer her on as she finishes the race.
As Sandra runs the Big Sur Marathon for Project Purple, she will be remembering the following words, written by her mother:
“Today is a milestone for each one of us, the first day of our future to be. Each day we rise is a blessing- to be here, to be alive and to be with those we love. Each day is full of precious moments; full of hope and joy. You, my friends, have become my stepping stones that help me cross the turbulent waters of my life.”
Please make a tax-deductible donation to Sandra’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following link: