Volunteer with PanCAN founder and singer Erin Willett at Orange County 5K pancreatic cancer walk

Mike Linse traveled to 10 PurpleStride events in 2018, including Orange County where he’s pictured with PanCAN founder, Pamela Acosta Marquardt (left) and singer, Erin Willett (middle).

Editor’s note: Our “It Starts with Someone” series chronicles all kinds of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) supporters – volunteers, survivors, caregivers, advocates, researchers – and describes the “someone” who has impacted their efforts in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Today’s article focuses on Mike Linse, who travels to multiple PurpleStride events each year in honor of his wife Julie, who passed away from pancreatic cancer.

With a purple wig, white beard and huge smile on his face, it’s hard to miss Mike Linse at a Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) PurpleStride, the walk to end pancreatic cancer event. And you won’t just find him at his local PurpleStride in Tulsa, Okla.

In 2018, Linse traveled to 10 different PurpleStride events across the country. In 2017, he attended 14. Over the years, he has traveled to more than 20 different cities and volunteered at more than 40 PurpleStride events.

“When I started traveling to PurpleStride events, it was to those that were a day’s drive from my house,” Linse said. “I’d go the day before to help set up. Now it has morphed into this – flying all over to help pull them off.”

Husband with his wife who died from pancreatic cancer and inspired him to volunteer for PanCAN

Linse and Julie were married for 19 years before she passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2015.

And he does it all in loving memory of his wife, Julie, who passed from pancreatic cancer in 2015 at the age of 56.

After her diagnosis in 2009, the couple learned about PanCAN and became actively involved as volunteers, attending their first PurpleStride together in Dallas in 2011.

“She was very involved,” Linse said of Julie. “PanCAN was a passion for her. Of course, it’s a passion for all of us.”

This year, Linse was in Dallas again for the 10th anniversary of the city’s PurpleStride DFW event.

“It’s like a family reunion, but family you want to see,” he joked. “I enjoy visiting with my purple family across the country. I probably know someone in every PanCAN affiliate.”

Linse explained that his favorite part of attending so many PurpleStride events is the opportunity to meet and speak with pancreatic cancer survivors and team captains in cities across the country.

“I like to ask them their stories. If I see you in a T-shirt you handmade, then I know you have a story. And everyone’s story is so unique.”

Although he describes himself as more introverted, Linse said he gets the inspiration to be more outgoing from his wife.

Man wearing purple wig volunteers at PurpleStride walks nationwide to end pancreatic cancer

Linse (left) is often seen sporting a purple wig at PurpleStride events.

“She never met a stranger. Even when she was getting her chemotherapy, she would walk around and talk to every other patient in the room. She’d pull that darn IV pole around and call it her dance partner,” he laughed. “Julie didn’t just make friends. She made family.”

While Linse knows most PurpleStride participants can’t attend as many events as he does each year, he recommends everyone try to do at least one extra event.

“There is generally at least one other PurpleStride close enough for you to go to outside of your home base. You don’t have to do 10 or 14. Just do one extra event.

“It may be a drop in the bucket, but what if that extra $1 donation is what puts a researcher over the top to find a cure? Plus, the events are just so much fun.”

When asked how many PurpleStride events he’d be taking part in 2019 after so much travel in 2017 and 2018, Linse replied, “one or two, max.” But he added with a smile, “Then again, I said the same darn thing this time last year. So, we’ll see.”

Keep an eye out for Linse at your local PurpleStride in 2019. And if you see him there with his purple wig, white beard and huge smile on his face, be sure to say, “Hello!”

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