A Southern California woman known as the "Marathon Goddess" is on a mission to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer the only way she knows how: by running.
Julie Weiss has run 99 marathons in her life, including 52 in one year, and is in the final stretching of training for yet another – a 100th marathon that she hopes will bring even more attention to the disease that took her father in 2010.
"My father passed away just 35 days after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors said there was nothing they could do," Weiss said.
U.S. & World
That's when her life changed: she lost her best friend, but gained a new passion, she says.
"He was my biggest fan and he always wanted me to qualify for the Boston Marathon which I finally did, just 10 days after he passed away and I knew he was there with me," Weiss said.
In 2012 Weiss ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks, raising awareness for what has become the third-deadliest cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Agi Hirschberg can relate to the pain and passion Weiss feels. After her husband died from pancreatic cancer 18 years ago, she was determined to spread the word about the disease.
"I lost my husband and was frustrated for the lack of information, lack of treatment, lack of everything," Hirschberg said.
Her determination led to the Hirschberg Foundation for Pancreatic Research at UCLA, which now funds research at 35 universities across the country, connecting those with the disease with those left to live with the grief it leaves behind.
"It is an instant connection. You look into someone's eyes and you know exactly what they feel," Hirschberg said.
Next month, when runners at the LA Marathon near mile marker 21 will connect with the Hirschberg Foundation, Weiss and families of pancreatic cancer victims and survivors as part of what they're calling the "purple people party."
"This is right around where you hit the wall sometimes but these people are here to give you hope, to give you energy and get you to keep going," said Weiss.
When Weiss crosses the finish line at the LA Marathon on Feb. 14, it will mark another milestone: her 100th marathon. She hopes by then to have raised $1,000 for every mile of the 26.2-mile race.
"I didn't know when I started running how many amazing people I would meet and sadly how many I would lose to pancreatic cancer because every single marathon I run, I dedicate to someone fighting the disease or somehow affected," Weiss said.
While the disease has taken many more lives than have beaten it, Weiss hopes to create survivors with every stride.
"I'll still be out there, still raising awareness until we find a cure," Weiss said.
If you'd like to donate to Weiss' cause, visit MarathonGoddess.com.