Every summer for as long as I can remember, my dad, four siblings, and I (plus anyone else brave enough to spend a week or so with The Coopers), would travel from Maine to the Jersey Shore. No, not your stereotyped Jersey Shore with Snooki and fist pumps, in fact our homestay was almost always in a dry town called Ocean Grove. Time down at the shore centered a lot around the Ley family - Daryl, my dad’s sister, her husband, Tom, and their four children Adrienne, Cooper, Ben, and Becca. Our time here with the Ley’s and seven other cousins meant endless hours on the beach learning to take a wave, catching the Italian ice trucks, running barefoot on the boardwalk and escaping death by splinters, truly and simply just enjoying one another’s company. Daryl, known to many as Auntie Dar, not only rooted her immediate family, she became “the shore mom” to a lot of her extended family that often came to visit. She helped us all in some way or another; whether it was her hug that you could feel for days, her laugh that made your eyes happy and heart warm, or her sincere interest in your life, she knew exactly what you needed at any moment.
May 3rd, 2018: The day my four siblings and I received the news that our Auntie Dar had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer which had spread to her lungs and liver. At the point it was detected, doctors deemed the case 'inoperable and unable to be treated with radiation'. For the next ten months, Daryl underwent aggressive chemo-therapy treatments with an army of friends and family by her side for support, and the most can-do, fighter attitude. After every up, our hope was restored; after every down, our suitcases lay open eagerly ready to hit the road with us to say our goodbyes. After ten months of this rollercoaster ride, we were almost certain that our miracle was just around the corner. It had to be, this was Auntie Dar after-all.
February 11, 2019 - A sudden and dramatic turn for the worse. Just days before her 59th birthday, Daryl, her family, and team of physicians made the decision to stop treatments and move her to hospice care. The pain had gotten too hard to cope with, and doctors had run out of solutions for her spreading cancer. In the days to follow, loved ones paid their visit to honor her fight and say goodbye. Unfortunately, I was not one of them.
My last memory of my aunt is a pleasant one; a simple dinner on the patio of her new home in Spring Lake, with family all around. A memory with life in her eyes and for that I am grateful. It breaks my heart that I did not get a proper goodbye with someone that meant so much to my upbringing. However, I believe that I have a chance at redemption being on The Project Purple Chicago Marathon team. In addition to my efforts to raise awareness and funds to support pancreatic cancer research, I plan to embody the strength that my Aunt channeled as a fighter, and invest it in my training and on race day. This, in addition to the fact that I am becoming a part of reason why someday there will be a world without this deadly disease, will be more than enough to keep me going strong!
Pancreatic cancer will become the #2 killer of all major cancers in the USA by 2020 and we need your help to fund more research and help more families fighting.