November is pancreatic cancer awareness month, and Barbara Foley wants people to know that.
Foley, a West Hartford resident, started the Ron Foley Foundation in 2010 in honor of her husband, who died from the disease in 2005.
Since then, the nonprofit has raised $1.8 million to help aid medical research, education, and financial aid for patients, and has created a strong community of people who have been affected by the disease.
It started on smaller terms, though. Foley held the foundation's first event in her backyard, a Kentucky Derby party. Her 75 guests were generous to help raise $19,000.
"When Ron was diagnosed, neither of us knew anything about pancreatic cancer," Foley said. "When he passed away, I wanted to create awareness and keep his memory alive."
Ron's Run, as it's known, is now held every year on the day of the Kentucky Derby. And it's grown considerably. It has moved from Foley's backyard to Folly Farm, in Simsbury. A combined 475 guests and volunteers attended this year, resulting in a record-breaking $300,000 raised.
That event, and the foundation as a whole, honors Ron Foley's memory. Foley worked for Travelers for 27 years, where he was named chief financial officer in 1992. In retirement, he spent a lot of time on his boat fishing, prior to his diagnosis. And he was someone who believed in helping others, his wife said.
"It overwhelms me," Foley said. "He loved life. It reminds me so much of Ron, because his favorite saying was 'Go big or go home.' He was a very giving person. He had an incredibly infectious joy. I think he would be really, really happy with the people we are helping. The people we have met from this foundation, it is just absolutely heartwarming and humbling."
Pancreatic cancer, Foley said, is a fast-acting disease. And the survival rate isn't as good as other cancers. Because of that, she said, the nonprofit has become an important outlet for people who truly need it.
"It touches people in a very different way, because it's pretty fast," Foley said. "It's a very difficult cancer. The people who are left behind are pretty much stunned. The feeling is palpable at Ron's Run, that we're there in their memory and to honor these people and to fight the battle they can't fight. We are the ones left behind to speak up for these people."
Jennifer Loughran, the nonprofit's executive vice president, knows well how fast the cancer can act. Her father died from the disease four months after the pain started.
"With this cancer, when somebody gets diagnosed, that person's life changes that day," Loughran said. "The care that has to be given is life-changing. That person won't be able to go to work. Their caretaker is going to have a challenge."
And that's where the Ron Foley Foundation comes in, as a place for people affected by the disease.
"We've had people express that before they got to know us, they felt alone and that they were battling this disease by themselves," Loughran said. "They don't feel alone anymore. They thought with this disease, that nobody knew about it. Now, we have people say they are glad they found us."
The foundation also participates in a number of educational awareness events across the state. One is scheduled for Feb. 2, at Yale University, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"The people we meet at our events, when you talk to them and hear their stories, you just want to keep the research going," Foley said. "We want to come up with an early detection method. It's important for us to keep plugging away."