Jeff Zammas’ friends and family rally at PurpleRide for pancreatic cancer
by Brian Rosemeyer
Sun sailor Newspapers
More than 1,000 riders will take to their bicycles along the trails of Elm Creek Regional Park in Maple Grove to rally around a passionate cause – awareness for pancreatic cancer.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the Twin Cities affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will host its annual PurpleRide – a 25-mile or 8-mile family-friendly bike ride to raise awareness for the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
Among the estimated 1,200 riders at this year’s PurpleRide will be a dedicated group comprised of the friends and family of Plymouth resident Jeff Zammas.
Jeff passed away from pancreatic cancer after a nearly four-year battle on Aug. 3. Prior to his passing, Jeff had a clear vision – to work hard to raise funds and awareness for PanCAN at the PurpleRide with a team of his own.
Jeff’s wife, Kelly, will carry out that dream with Team Z on Sept. 15.
“It was so important to him, so I just wanted to make it the best we could without him here,” Kelly said.
The goal began at last year’s PurpleRide. The Zammas family had recently moved to Plymouth and decided to visit the annual fundraiser at Elm Creek as spectators.
However, what they found was an impressive and powerful support network of community members and families affected by pancreatic cancer.
“We were surprised at what a great event it was,” Kelly said. “It was really about community and everyone there was so friendly. Jeff had conversations with multiple survivors and support groups and that’s when he started to get involved.”
Pancreatic is one of the most aggressive and painful cancers a person can be diagnosed with. Only 6 percent of those with the cancer survive the first five years.
While awareness of the cancer may not be on par with breast or prostate cancers, the all-volunteer organization PanCAN has been very active in the past 14 years with a mission to double pancreatic cancer survival rate by 2020.
Jeff was introduced to the PanCAN mission and PanCAN staff at the PurpleRide and assumed a mission of his own. He began by working with Plymouth leaders to proclaim November as National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.
He then set his sights on building a team for the 2013 PurpleRide.
Through the end of 2012, Jeff’s health and tumors seemed to be under control. Kelly said the couple focused the first part of 2013 on traveling and doing fun things with the family.
The Zammas’ took a trip to Florida with 4-year-old son Ian, Jeff went on an Alaskan cruise with his mother and Kelly and Jeff embarked on a two-and- a-half week European vacation this summer.
After the trip, Jeff checked himself into the hospital because he felt something was seriously wrong. Another scan showed the cancer was spreading out of control.
Jeff was transitioned to hospice care and lost his battle in early August.
However, prior to his death, Jeff laid significant groundwork for Team Z, and Kelly had every intention of following through on what he began.
“It’s a special way to remember him and what was important to him,” Kelly said. “This is to honor his memory. I think he would be very impressed and really touched by what everybody’s done.”
With 26 total members from around the country, Team Z is one of the biggest groups in this year’s PurpleRide. Jeff had set a goal to raise $5,000, which has long since been surpassed. Team Z has raised more than $11,000 thus far and donations are still coming in.
“Jeff thought $5,000 would be a lot to raise,” Kelly added. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”
While Jeff won’t be riding at the event, Kelly said he will be guiding Team Z in spirit. She also said Ian will accompany her on an 8-mile ride with a trail-a-bike throughout.
Through the effort of people like the Zammas family, PurpleRide and PanCAN’s other awareness campaigns are beginning to pay off and bring real attention to the disease.
Lisa Beckendorf is the Twin Cities affiliate Event Coordinator at PanCAN as well as a pancreatic cancer survivor of 15 years. She said PurpleRide participation is up this year from about 900 last year, and she expects the goal of $400,000 will be met and most likely exceeded. PurpleRide has raised $2 million since the first event eight years ago.
“The awareness is getting out there,” Beckendorf said. “It’s just picking up more and more momentum.”
Beckendorf also coordinates the upcoming PurpleLight and PurpleStride events for PanCAN.
PurpleStride is a fun walk-run on Sept. 21 in Rochester and PurpleLight is a national vigil set for Oct. 27, which the Twin Cities affiliate will support on the steps of the Minnesota Capitol building in St. Paul.
Beckendorf noted that she felt honored to be supporting the PanCAN network for families such as the Zammas’.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to give back,” she said. “It’s humbling when someone meets me because, as a survivor, I represent something that doesn’t frequently exist. It’s something I’m so glad I’m doing because it can help others currently in this battle.”
Kelly also added that she doesn’t plan to stop supporting the network after this year’s PurpleRide.
She said she and her son will continue to honor Jeff’s memory through volunteering with PanCAN at other signature events and fundraisers.
“I think of it as when he really started to get his roots here,” Kelly said. “When he met the people at PanCAN, he started making contacts and building a community. I want to continue that in his honor.”
More information and registration for PurpleRide can be found at purpleride.org. For information about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, visit pancan.org.
Contact Brian Rosemeyer at [email protected]