PanCAN volunteers from Columbus, Ohio, gather at a national training

PanCAN’s Columbus Affiliate members at Volunteer Summit, from top left: Kim Kern, Molly Cook, Jamie Foltz, Angela Isaacs, Brittany Holloway

This article written by PanCAN volunteer Jamie Foltz.

It’s often said that friends are the family we choose. Having people in our corner is one of the greatest gifts when going through difficult times. So when I started talking with volunteers in PanCAN affiliates around the country, it was no surprise to hear that many of them got involved because of the friendships that a network like PanCAN provides.

It’s not easy to find like-minded people who understand you. It’s downright difficult to find people who truly get what a pancreatic cancer diagnosis means. What so many of us volunteers in PanCAN affiliates have found is just that. And through volunteering together, we’ve found our “Purple People.”

Since joining the Columbus Affiliate, I have personally been beyond blessed to develop several friendships. My Purple People are a diverse crew of men and women from across the country who are strong, kind, determined, and passionate about finding a cure for this disease. While we all have many different things in common, one subject motivates us all into action. We trust each other, we’re there for each other, and we enjoy spending time together. Even when the subject of pancreatic cancer is furthest from our minds, you can find us paddleboarding, going out to dinners, working out together, and enjoying the company of people who just “get” it.

PanCAN volunteer Tripp Razor and mom Clennie Banks

Tripp Razor of the PanCAN Raleigh-Durham Affiliate and his mom, Clennie Banks

At the 2019 Volunteer Summit near the PanCAN National Office in Manhattan Beach, Calif., I met the unforgettable Tripp Razor. The PurpleStride Chair in the Raleigh-Durham Affiliate, Tripp has a peaceful presence and a smile like no other. I asked him about what his Purple People mean to him. Here’s what he said.

“Allies – it’s what my mom taught me to be and have. Because we are here on this Earth to help one another. After she passed away from pancreatic cancer in May of 2015, I knew I couldn’t sit still and stay silent. Families are going through what we had been through for the year-and-a-half that she had this dreaded disease. I wanted to find an organization where I could share the knowledge we didn’t have and, most importantly, help people know that they are not alone.

PanCAN was that organization, and I have Purple Family members all across the U.S. What started as a joke at breakfast with Ohio friends about Michigan vs. Ohio State has turned into close friendships after one weekend over the last three years. Along with everyone else at Volunteer Summit, we shared why we volunteer, ideas for PurpleStride, and how we can better help our communities throughout the year. We keep in touch through Facebook, joining Affiliate meetings, email and PanCAN Zoom meetings.

My Purple Family are my allies, as we lean on each other for the common goal that one day a cure will be found. When we were last at Volunteer Summit, we were asked what legacy we want to leave behind. My answer was, “I’m a huge hugger, and I hate that I can’t give my mom a “Big Bear Hug” anymore, so I stay involved in hopes that someone can give their loved one hugs just a little while longer.”

PanCAN volunteer Tiffany Meekel with mom Carol Negin at a PanCAN PurpleStride walk

Tiffany Meekel with her mom, Carol Negin, at PurpleStride Cleveland

Tiffany Meekel, Cleveland Affiliate Chair, was in the room when Tripp shared that he wanted to give more people the opportunity to hug their loved ones. She, too, lost her mom to pancreatic cancer, and as she shared her story, she told us how she missed those hugs so much.

At that moment, Tripp stood up, walked to her table, and in front of a room full of volunteers, asked if he could give her a “Big Bear Hug.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the entire room. That one hug initiated a long-distance friendship and demonstrated what this disease does to caregivers.

I asked Tiffany about her Purple People, and she said:

“Tripp has the absolute BEST hugs. I can’t wait to get another.” She went on to say, “PanCAN is my ‘framily!’ I know that no matter where I go in the country, I have ‘framily.’ We draw comfort that even on the darkest nights, there is hope in the new dawn! By endurance, we conquer!”

The Columbus Affiliate where I Chair our PanCAN PurpleStride event is overflowing with good humans I’m honored to call friends.

Kim Kern, our Mission Chair, is one of those friends. She told me:

“To be honest, I don’t want to be a member of this club; no one does. None of us want to have lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer or have someone who is currently battling this disease. But here we are. When I call this group of amazing people my “Purple Family,” I mean it. We all know the pain this cancer has caused and we are there for each other when needed. Finding a cure for this terrible cancer is our goal, and we want to prevent another family from experiencing what we have all been through.”

It’s through PanCAN that volunteers across the country have found not only an organization dedicated to research, patient care, and advocacy, but we’ve found a group in which meaningful, purpose-filled friendships are built each and every day.

It’s no surprise that the people who make the organization so special are most definitely the family we choose.

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