David Darst was a lively, happy man. He loved his family, he loved good food, he loved his home. His youngest daughter, Jaclyn, remembers her father as the quintessential dad, a man who loved to crack bad jokes and smile with his kids.
“He was just your normal goofy dad,” said Jaclyn, “Always laughing, always having fun. He had the biggest laugh, the biggest heart.”
Sadly, David lost his life only two months ago due to pancreatic cancer. Jaclyn, though still grieving, is trying to remember her silly, buoyant, amazing dad, and to honor him by running in the Chicago marathon, exactly one year after his diagnosis. She hopes the run will not only help her heal, but also help others in their own battles with pancreatic cancer.
Cancer Comes to the Darst’s Doorstep
Since losing her father in May, Jaclyn has begun to piece together exactly what happened to her father as part of coming to terms with her father’s passing. She remembers the exact date of his diagnosis–October 8, 2022.
“Hearing the news was horrible,” Jaclyn said. “I mean, I didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer but from my parents reaction, and of course you Google it to see exactly what this means and what the prognosis is, and when you hear it’s less than a year you just think, ‘no, there’s no way that would be my dad.’”
Before his diagnosis, David had been feeling severe pain in his back and stomach. Thinking it might be kidney stones, David dealt with his pain quietly, hoping it would pass. Finally, the pain grew so intense that he went to the ER, hoping that the doctors could do something to help him pass the stones. When the doctors saw him, they ordered scans just to be sure that he really did have kidney stones. That’s when they found masses on his pancreas and liver. Oncologists quickly discovered the presence of cancer.
Quickly, the family began to work together to figure out how best to help David, hopeful that he would be able to make it through his cancer journey. In the coming months of his diagnosis, Jaclyn remembers her family doing anything they could think of to lift his spirits. One of the many ways they supported David was through their iconic ‘Dave’s Defenders’ t-shirts.
“We had the strength mentality, we were super hopeful,” Jaclyn explains. “We got these neon yellow shirts made. My dad was such a nerd, we would buy him nice clothes and he just wanted to wear a neon yellow shirt from Walmart most of the time anyways, so we called that his ‘PaPa shirt’. That’s what my sister’s twin boys, Marshall and Warren, called it because they always recognized their ‘PaPa’ in the yellow shirt.”
Along with always wearing her custom Dave’s Defenders shirt, she also made sure to be there for him during treatments. Thanks to her job’s flexible schedule, she was able to support her parents at almost every chemotherapy appointment.
“I was able to go to the hospital with him almost every Thursday that he had treatment and just brought fruit and healthy snacks,” said Jaclyn. “I brought a smile and wore the yellow shirt and just wanted to be there with my mom and dad.”
However, David’s condition declined rapidly. Jaclyn watched as her father grew weaker, smaller, less himself.
“It was horrible to see my dad go from being this big, jolly guy to so quickly losing weight and losing his appetite and just not being himself because he was so scared, so unsure of what was going to happen– we all were.”
Even though the journey for Jaclyn and her family was emotionally challenging, she wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“I’m thankful that I had all that time because, you just wonder after all of it is said and done if you’re going to regret not being there for something but I have no regrets, I was there for everything. My whole family was.”
One of the things that helped Jaclyn during this period was her strong Christian faith.
“My family and I have such a strong faith, and we have always had a strong faith,” Jaclyn said, “but I have never gone to church so much in my entire life. I was going almost two to three times a week for his last five months, and that was very helpful.”
Jaclyn’s faith journey evolved as her father’s condition worsened. At first, she turned to religion as a place to find comfort and acceptance of her family’s new normal. Quickly, the family’s prayers turned towards asking for a miracle. When none came, Jaclyn had to accept that her father likely would not survive his battle. She began to hope simply that his pain would end soon and that he would find some peace, and that she and her family would have the strength to bear his passing.
“I am thankful for my faith because I had someone to pray to and just know that whatever was going to happen was out of my control,” Jaclyn explained.
David passed in May of 2023, just eight months after his diagnosis. Today, the family is still trying to recover from the loss and find a way forward.
Honoring David, One Step at a Time
If you look at Jaclyn’s fundraising page for Project Purple, it is littered with hopeful phrases and words of encouragement for herself, her family, and for her father. It was created before her father’s passing. Initially, she was running to empower her father in his journey. Now, she is shifting her focus to helping others who are fighting against this disease.
“I am just so sad that he’s not going to be here to see me run, but at the same time, my thoughts have shifted now because I have seen the whole process, from when he was diagnosed to when he passed, and how quickly that happened in eight months,” Jaclyn said. “I mean you read about it, but nothing can– I mean nothing can prepare you for what will actually happen, unless you’re a small percentage of people. And that’s who I’m running for is that percentage of people, my hopes are for that percentage to grow.”
She also hopes that this run will help spread awareness, in the hopes that another family does not have to bear the weight of cancer as heavily as she and her family did.
“So many people have told me that they didn’t know much about pancreatic cancer at all until I started running and posting all about Project Purple and sharing my dad’s story,” Jaclyn said.
Before October 2022, Jaclyn would have said she likes running for the simple reason that it gets her away from a screen and gives her some time to herself. After her father’s diagnosis, however, running became a safe place to land in times of stress.
“It was a safe place that I felt I could always go, the result was the same, I always felt better afterwards,” Jaclyn explained. “And it’s hard to find something when you’re going through something like I have and my family has. It’s hard to find something that takes your mind off things and makes you feel better afterwards that consistently.”
Jaclyn has always been an athlete, even if running came to her later in life. She has run several half marathons, and other road races. Chicago will not only be her first marathon, but will be her first race without her father. Even though David won’t be waiting for her at the finish line, she knows that he would have loved that she continues to run and push herself forward.
“It was something he loved that I did. He loved that I run,” Jaclyn said. “He would come to all my races and wear that stupid yellow shirt because he knew I would be able to find him at the finish line. So that’s why running still makes me feel close to him… I know he is still very proud of me.”
The Chicago Marathon will also be a time for her and her family to remember David and honor his memory in a very personal way of donating to pancreatic cancer research. Her fundraising page has already raised about $3,500 towards her goal of $10,000. Perhaps what is more important than that though are the well wishes from people who have donated, all of which let Jaclyn know that they are rooting for her and her family. Jaclyn hopes that this race will help the family begin to cope with David’s loss as the community around them lifts them up.
“I think it’s going to be part of our healing journey,” Jaclyn said. “Every time that I have been out on a run, it crosses my mind and it makes me cry every time, just thinking about running this marathon and who I am running it for. And I’ve never run a marathon before, so it’s just going to be really powerful to do this.”
She also is excited about meeting people from Project Purple. Jaclyn has been involved with the organization since her father’s diagnosis, and the community has helped her feel less alone in her struggles. Now, she can’t wait to meet in person the powerful community of Project Purple runners who have supported her in her grief.
“I think just having a weekend to meet some of these people within the pancreatic cancer community and meeting survivors and people that have had similar stories,” said Jaclyn. “It’s going to be so healing for my whole family.”
A World Without Pancreatic Cancer
On the Fourth of July, Jaclyn and her family were up at their house on Lake Erie. This holiday, like so many others, brought with it the sting of grief. However, Jaclyn has found some peace, not just with her running, but with her faith as well.
“I went on my run, and went up to the lighthouse and had a moment and said prayers and just talked to him and I said, ‘you are going to have the best fireworks show of anyone, you are going to see them all over the country all at once… I can just picture him in Heaven and I know he’s in a better place.”
Jaclyn has been going on similar runs for the past few months. Each time, she takes the chance to think about her father. She sees running as a safe place for her to mourn her loss and help heal after his passing.
“I talk to my dad every time I’m out running. It’s just a chance for me in a busy day to think of him. Sometimes I feel guilty if I’ve been so busy and didn’t have a chance to talk to him or think about him, but running never fails. Every time I go out and run, I think about him.”
She can’t wait to talk to him on October 8, 2023, when she runs the Chicago marathon. Not only will this run help her move forward, but she believes that it will also give her a chance to help others, and play her part in Project Purple’s mission of a world without pancreatic cancer.
“We’re all put on this earth to be servants to others, and be good stewards for other people and treat people kindly. This is just my way of giving back, and honoring my dad.”
The last miraculous piece of advice David shared so clearly with his family while in hospice was “to not be ones of fear, but rather ones of faith.” That’s exactly Jaclyn’s mentality going into this race– to not be fearful of 26.2, but to have faith she’ll cross that finish line.
If you are interested in supporting Jaclyn, please click here to see her fundraising page. If you, like Jaclyn and want to run with Project Purple, please visit our website. We can’t wait to see Jaclyn and all the Darsts on October 8, hopefully with their patented yellow t-shirts to remind her to “Keep Going.