Soon after her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004, West Hartford resident Barbara Foley learned some startling and disheartening facts about the disease.
And after Ron Foley's death in 2005, she was determined to do something about it.
"We were both stunned by the lack of hope and the soberingly grim statistics. It's the fourth deadliest cancer and yet we knew little about it. Of the more than 42,000 people diagnosed in 2012, 35,000 will not survive the year," Foley said.
Pancreatic cancer also has the highest mortality rate of any cancer, and Foley said that most people live only about six months after diagnosis, with few surviving more than five years. Also, she said, unlike many other cancers for which statistics have been improving, "the numbers aren't getting any better."
After her husband died in 2005, just a little over a year after he was diagnosed, Foley soon had a plan to keep his legacy going – raising her voice for all of the victims who had been silenced.
In May 2009, Foley held the first "Ron's Run for the Roses" in her Stoner Drive backyard. The Kentucky Derby party netted $19,000, which she donated to pancreatic cancer research.
The following year, the Ron Foley Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Inc., was granted 501(c)(3) status, and at the advice of her neightbor Tony Sisti, Ron's Run for the Roses moved to Folly Farm in Simsbury.
They could accommodate many more guests at the equestrian center, and in 2012 more than 300 people attended and they raised more than $100,000.
"Last year we donated $75,000 to a research project at Hartford Hospital," Foley said. "We've also added a "fund a need" component to the Foundation's giving plan, called "Ron's Rescue Fund." It offers pancreatic cancer patients help with day-to-day expenses.
"Since September, we've helped three patients," Foley said. They initially began the program through Hartford Hospital, but will be branching out to the rest of the Hartford area.
"Sadly, it can be for funeral expenses," Foley said, although the Foundation recently sent one 46-year-old patient on a trip to Disney World.
"It was such a gift," Foley said. The woman had a fantastic time with her family. Although her health declined soon afterward and she passed away, the woman's daughter said the trip was "the best."
Foley said she wanted to personally help patients, who often struggle to find resources. "It's hard for them to even talk to survivors, because there aren't a lot of them. It's nice to know that someone is looking out for you," she said.
So far, the Ron Foley Pancreatic Foundation has donated more than $150,000 to research, education, and directly to fund patients' needs.
And in November – Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month – Foley is also raising awareness and additional funds through the "Power of Purple."
"It was Tony Sisti who thought of the idea of lighting up the world in purple during the month of November, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month – and the 'Power of Purple' became a movement," Foley said.
The Power of Purple began lighting up in early November, with a Stoner Pond "lighting" just after the power (lost during Hurricane Sandy) was restored on Friday, Nov. 2.
"The trees along the shoreline are aglow with purple lights reflecting on the pond and the stone pillars welcoming you on to Stoner Drive are wrapped in purple lights. Purple displays can be seen throughout town – Fern Street, Pioneer Drive, Prospect Avenue, and many more locations. All to raise awareness of the fourth deadliest cancer, pancreatic," said Foley.
Foley said one of the Foundation's volunteers, Jennifer Loughran, who had lost her Dad to pancreatic cancer, approached the West Hartford Merchants Association this fall for support.
The "Power of Purple Shopping Day" in West Hartford Center was born, and a long list of merchants will be participating in various ways on Nov. 15.
Businesses have strung up purple lights, and many are either donating a percentage of the day's sales or making a flat donation to the Ron Foley Foundation, Loughran said.
The following merchants are participating: BK&Co., Fringe Hair Works, Toast Wines by Taste, DeRobertis Jewelers, Bridgewater Chocolate, Philip David, Matthew Phillips, Per Se, Pfau's Hardware, Toy Chest, Lyn Evans Potpourri Designs, Grant's, Artichoke, Webster Bank, Backstage Pizza, Lux Bond & Green, Becker's Jewelers, Kimberly Boutique, Central Optica, The Silver Dahlia, Silkworm, and William Raveis Real Estate.
Thirty5 Bar & Grille is stringing purple lights and will also feature a purple punch cocktail Thursday night.
Foley said she also learned that Hartford City Hall will be lit up in purple on Thursday night.
"I'm proud of our dedicated, creative and incredibly hard-working volunteers, many of whom have been impacted by the disease themselves," said Foley.
"What we're doing is trying to let people know. More noise leads to more money leads to more research – and more help for people," she said.
If her late husband knew what she was doing now, "He would be laughing at all of this," Foley said. "But, he would be happy because he was a fighter."