The Supporter: Jill Peet Saponaro
Issue 4's featured "Supporter" is Jill Peet Sapponaro, who orchestrated a lighting ceremony for pancreatic cancer research.

As told to Britt Julious

My husband was very young when he died from pancreatic cancer, and it was really awful.

He passed in May, and I saw that in October, all the buildings had pink lights for breast cancer. I loved it. I thought it was beautiful. And it wasn’t just a couple [of buildings]; it was many, so it made a statement. I just assumed the following month, in November, it would be purple for pancreatic cancer, and it wasn’t.

I remember talking to my girlfriend and saying, “For breast cancer, the whole city was pink, and they can’t even do a building [for pancreatic cancer]?” So she said, “Well, do something about it.” And I was like, “Well, what can I do?”

I was emailing [building owners]. I kept calling and asking what it [would] cost if I wanted to pay. I was writing action news, and nothing would ever happen. Then, one of my friends got a contact at the Merchandise Mart, and they said they would do it. And they gave me the property manager at Willis Tower, and she said not only would they do it, they would give us a free media event in the lobby, and I could use their P.R. people. It just blossomed.

The older you get, the more loss that you have, and the more tragedy you come across in your life, you realize what’s important.

Long story short, we got over 20 buildings the first year, and it was a lot of work. We ended up getting a couple senators and the mayor to attend [the media event], and it was a big spiel. It was on the news, and [we’ve done it] every year since then (2010).

We’ve come a really long way. Back then, my husband was only stage III. They told him [he had] maybe six months, and he lived for 15 months. I have a friend whose husband has [pancreatic cancer], and he’s going on year four. And he was diagnosed at stage IV. The survival rate was only 6 percent then, and now it’s 9. It used to be National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day. Now, it’s World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day.

The older you get, the more loss that you have, and the more tragedy you come across in your life, you realize what’s important. I feel like my time and talents are best spent doing what I do. I’m just about getting stuff done. Give me an inch and I’ll take it further. I don’t know if I’ll make it to a mile, but I’ll make it to a foot.


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