Tina Fitzsimmons was just a young girl in the third grade when her grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was back in 1973, and Tina’s mother traveled to Japan to tend to her mom. From the time Tina’s grandmother learned of her illness, doctors could offer nothing in terms of treatment or a cure. She survived just three months after her diagnosis. Though Tina was very young when her grandmother passed away, the experience left a long-lasting impact on her. Over the years, cancer, in different forms, has frequently touched Tina’s life. She has been committed to fundraising for cancer research for many years. Recently, Tina has developed a sense of urgency surrounding pancreatic cancer research funding. Now, for the second time in two years, she is running the Lincoln Marathon with the Project Purple team. This time, Tina has really gone the extra mile, so to speak, by forming a team of 13 runners to join her as she raises money and awareness for pancreatic cancer.
Tina Fitzsimmons lives in Omaha, Nebraska where she oversees client relationships for an insurance company. She also has a health and wellness business on the side. She and Tim Fitzsimmons raised three children together, twins Erin and Miles, who are now 22, and Nora, who is 14. Tina is also the very proud grandmother to Erin’s son, Elijah, who is almost two. Tina’s children and grandson are what drives her and motivates her to raise money for cancer research. Not only did Tina’s grandmother have pancreatic cancer, but Tim’s family also was impacted by cancer. “Every adult female on Tim’s side of the family was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then two years ago, Tim was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Tina explains. She has a very real and understandable fear that there are genetic mutations in their family that could predispose their children and grandchildren to develop cancer. Tina says, “My motivation is my kids. I want there to have been enough scientific breakthroughs to make a change.”
Tina has raised money for cancer research for many years. She first started by participating in 75 mile breast cancer walks that take place over a three-day period. Soon, however, her focus began to change. While she believes that breast cancer needs further research, she started realizing that certain cancers were grossly underfunded. When her 50-year-old co-worker was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Tina realized that she needed to do something to raise money and awareness for the disease.
Tina started running when she was still in college, but it was in 2008 that she decided to take the plunge and start training for distance races. She ran her first marathon in Charlotte that year. She has now run six full marathons and a dozen half-marathons. While Tina loves running, it has not always been easy. She suffered from Achilles Tendonitis and arthritis in both knees during training back in 2008. In 2012, her doctor determined she had a meniscus tear but she has been able to avoid surgery. She had another MRI recently which revealed the meniscus tear had worsened.
The injury and arthritis have sometimes slowed Tina down but have not stopped her. She first ran with the Project Purple Lincoln Marathon team in 2015. When she read that Project Purple was going to be the official charity partner for the Lincoln Marathon, Tina reached out to the charity for more information and talked with Chairman Dino Verrelli. She says, “Dino is such a ferocious advocate and he just says it like it is. Not everyone is comfortable hearing the facts but we have to do everything we can to get the funding to the scientists.”
Tina joined the team of more than 80 runners last year in Lincoln. She ran the full marathon but struggled with the heat and an undiagnosed case of bronchitis. She was disappointed with her finish time, but says, “It was a very positive experience having a support system and being a part of the team.”
She had such a positive experience in 2015 that Tina decided to rejoin the Project Purple team for 2016. This time, however, she has formed a team of 13 people to train, fundraise and run together. Her team includes friends, co-workers and two of her children. Tina says, “Two of my kids are running with me and I could not be prouder that they are participating in this. My son has run a half-marathon before, but my daughter has not. She has a young son and is getting her training in, even though time is tight for her.”
Part of what makes Tina’s team fun and unique is the diversity of the runners. Some of Tina’s teammates have been personally touched by pancreatic cancer, while others have not. She has a married couple running on her team, and the husband lost his mother to pancreatic cancer. Another teammate also lost her mother to pancreatic cancer. Some members of her team have run long-distance races before, while others have not. The runners are young and old and come from a variety of different backgrounds. Together, they have committed to running for Project Purple and they have set a lofty fundraising goal of $10,000.
Tina has recently been facing her own roadblocks in the training process. Her meniscus tear has become worse, causing her discomfort when she runs. She is signed up to run the full marathon, but she is experiencing pain on her longer distances. She will soon face making the decision of attempting to complete the full marathon or dropping to the half-marathon distance. Though she hopes to finish the full, she sees a silver lining in possibly dropping down to the half: she would get to complete the race with her children. “It would be an awesome thing to cross the finish line with them,” she explains.
Either way, Tina will be lining up with her team and the larger Project Purple team on May 1st, 2016. “I wanted to come back this year because there is no cure. There is a single digit survival rate. It is one of the most vicious cancers. Pancreatic cancer needs a lot of attention. I see no greater cause that is important to my family or me right now. It needs awareness. It needs a voice.” Tina continues, “This is an imminent situation. We don’t have time to wait. We have to make strides now.”
Please make a tax-deductible contribution to Tina’s Project Purple team fundraiser: https://www.crowdrise.com/39thAnnualLincolnMarathon/fundraiser/tinafitzsimmons