Tommy Karr has participated in his share of fundraisers in support of pancreatic cancer charities over the years. When he moved from New York City to Charlotte, NC a year ago, his activity level dropped off and he noticed that he was putting on weight. He recalls, “Back in New York City, I had several friends who had participated in Tough Mudder. It looked fascinating, but scary. I have never been mistaken for an athlete. Now that we’ve been in Charlotte for a year and I walk much less than I did in New York, I’ve noticed the weight starting to creep up. I decided to commit to Tough Mudder as a way to get myself active again.” As he was looking at the Tough Mudder website, Tommy was delighted to find Project Purple was a charity partner. Tommy will be participating in the Tough Mudder Carolinas for Project Purple in August, 2016. The pancreatic cancer cause is near and dear to his heart. The illness has had a devastating effect on his family on more than one occasion.
Tommy’s Grandfather Grows Ill
Tommy adored his grandfather, Arthur Wilson Stearley, or ‘Papaw’, as Tommy called him. Tommy’s grandfather rose to the rank of Major during his career with the US Air Force. He and his twin brother, Everett Woodrow Stearley, fought in World War II. Everett passed away during the Bataan Death March in 1942. Arthur survived the war and went on to enjoy careers at the post office and as a law enforcement officer.
In 1984, Arthur began having severe backaches that were repeatedly written off as digestive problems. Finally, on March 28, 1985, he was officially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His cancer was already stage IV and he was not given much hope by the medical profession. He opted not to undergo any chemotherapy, and passed away just six weeks later. Tommy says, “It was awful to watch him wither away. I was only nine years old at the time and he had been a hero to me. When I was born, he had moved in with us. I would fill my Radio Flyer wagon with tons of books and wheel it down the hall to his bedroom, asking him to read to me every night. We were very close.”
Tommy Faces Pancreatic Cancer Again
Tommy and his mother, Debra Stearley Adkins, enjoyed a very close relationship. Tommy explains, “She and I were best friends and told each other just about everything.” Tommy describes his mother as a ‘powerhouse’ who was stubborn and outspoken. She and her husband, Tommy’s stepfather, owned a restaurant together. “Once, while operating their restaurant, she caught a thief trying to steal money from the cash register. Even at just 115 pounds, she was able to throw the culprit onto the prep table and tie him down until police arrived,” Tommy explains.
Debra cherished her three sons above all else. “My mom was a firm believer in family. If it didn’t help her boys, she wasn’t that interested in it,” Tommy recalls. Her passion for music and art inspired Tommy to pursue a career in theatre.
In the fall of 2007, Debra passed out while driving her car. She was transported to the hospital where doctors discovered that her enzyme levels were abnormal. In December, 2007, she was diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer. She had a Whipple procedure which was followed up with chemotherapy.
Tommy’s Life Changes Dramatically
Tommy was living in Alabama at the time of his mother’s diagnosis. He traveled as often as he could to Tennessee to spend time with her. Because he was so dedicated to supporting his mother during her illness, he nearly passed up on an opportunity to move to New York City to advance his career. However, his mom insisted that he go live his life and follow his dreams. Tommy says, “She was the most supportive person I’ve ever known.”
After his move, he continued to fly home as often as he could, and he spoke with her every day. Debra’s oncologist had told the family that she would likely live another two to five years. Tommy was shocked when he received a call in August, 2008, telling him that he needed to come home to say goodbye to her. He was able to spend a few days at his mother’s bedside. She passed away August 24, 2008, just eight months after her diagnosis.
Tommy Takes on a Tough Mudder
Tommy is now the Director of Marketing and Communications at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte in North Carolina. His husband also works in theater as the Stage Manager for the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s production of “First Date”. The two met and married while living in New York City. While the move has been good for Tommy’s career, it has not be conducive to maintaining his exercise program. He knew that he needed to get moving again and thought that training for a Tough Mudder would help motivate him to stick to a program.
Tommy is looking forward to tackling this new Tough Mudder challenge while raising funds for a cause that means so much to him. Tommy knows that there is an elevated risk for pancreatic cancer in his family. After seeing his Pawpaw and his mother fight the disease, he understands how devastating a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is for a family to face. He is committed to doing whatever he can to help find a cure so that no other family has to experience what his has endured.
Please make a tax-deductible donation to Tommy’s Project Purple Tough Mudder fundraiser at the following link: