JMU students honor their mother by raising awareness for pancreatic cancer

It’s been nearly two years since Kristen lost her mom following an eight month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Each year since her passing, Kristen has organized a race in her honor. According to the Hirshberg Foundation, pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. This is because there are no tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages when removal of the tumor is possible.

"She loved to be with people and socialize. She loved to dance and karaoke, wherever there was a karaoke machine she was there,” JMU student Kristen Yeager said about her mother. “I knew what I was doing was raising a lot of funds to help pancreatic cancer patients and families,” Kristen said.

Kristen organized the race through Project Purple, an organization whose mission is to find a cure for pancreatic cancer. Its founder and CEO said although 80% of pancreatic cancer research is federally funded, this accounts for only two percent of the government’s budget.

Dino Verrelli, Project Purple Founder and CEO said, “We can’t just say 'Hey we have to just forget the 80% that comes in,' right, cause that’s important. We need more cooperation, we need more funding. we need more groups like Project Purple to get engaged and get involved and fund research.”

Patty’s passing came just before the coronavirus pandemic hit, which allowed Kristen and her sisters to comfort their dad at home.

“We were able to all be together and just grieve together and spend good quality family time during the pandemic,” Kristen said.

From the family’s loss came a lot of support. Kristen said, “It gave me a community outside my own family and friends for people that are dealing with the exact same thing that I went through.”

Kristen’s sisters hope their mom’s story can inspire others. Julia said, “Don’t take life for granted. I would have never expected to be here like five years ago in this position. It's been like a blessing as well. I've just grown a lot.” Jennifer said, “through her cancer journey, she never complained. I think that’s very inspirational for people to look at their circumstances sometimes and know it’s not that bad you can push through.”

Saturday would have been Patty's 59th birthday. To join Kristen's run for a cure, 5.9 miles for Patty’s 59th takes place virtually tomorrow.