Deirdre Lewin' story

Life Lessons from My Grandmother


Deirdre’s maternal grandmother, Mary Carroll, wasn’t just a loving presence in Deirdre’s life; she was Deirdre’s idol, the cherished matriarch at the heart of her large, close-knit family in Long Island.

In her late 20s, Mary moved to the United States from her family’s farm in Ireland. She courageously immigrated to New York alone, a trailblazer with a limited education who was grateful to be in the United States and determined to build a new life for herself. Shortly after moving to New York, she reconnected with Deirdre’s Grandpa Patrick, whom she had briefly known in Ireland, and they got married and eventually moved to Long Island to raise their family.

Mary built a life dedicated to her family and centered around her deep religious faith and believed in honesty, hard work, integrity, gratitude, and selflessness—values she modeled for her children, and later, her 10 grandchildren, including Deirdre and her two siblings, who she spent every afternoon with while their parents were at work. Deirdre remembers her high school summer job at a beach club, and every day, her grandmother would arrive at the beach club to walk her back to her grandparents’ house after work, imparting valuable life lessons along the way.

Deirdre’s grandmother was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer during the summer of 2019 when she was in her late 80s and had no family history of the disease. Never one to complain, her family believes she was likely experiencing symptoms, including fatigue and gastrointestinal discomfort, for a while before she went to the doctor. She was determined to fight this aggressive disease and drew strength from her faith. She underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment, with her entire family rallying around her, taking care of her, and giving her hope. Everyone in the family made sure when she felt well enough, she participated in activities that brought her joy and comfort, including attending church, playing card games and scratch-off lottery tickets, and taking walks along the boardwalk near her home. She was optimistic she would beat this disease, even continuing to lift arm weights to build up her strength until a week before she passed away in February 2020, when Deirdre was just 22.

Deirdre still thinks about, and misses, her grandmother daily. “I always ask myself, ‘What would Grandma Mary say or do in this instance?’ She lived such a beautiful life and I wish we could’ve had her for longer,” said Deirdre. “Now, I use the many lessons she taught me as guiding principles to help make decisions in my own life, and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her.”

Deirdre also credits her grandmother with teaching her perseverance; she believed that with enough hard work and determination, she could do anything, and she never doubted her capabilities or let any obstacle block her way. Deirdre has applied these important lessons to her lifelong love of running, first as a teen and college student, and now as a member of a running club in New York City. She has watched the TCS New York City Marathon and feels both honored and privileged to have the opportunity to combine her passion for the sport with a greater purpose: running the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon as a member of Team Lustgarten. She’s grateful that 100% of every donation to the Lustgarten Foundation funds the most groundbreaking pancreatic cancer research on early detection, new treatments, and personalized medicine.

“Watching my younger sister and I at our track competitions brought my grandmother so much joy and pride. Now, I want to honor how much she will always mean to me and celebrate her legacy by running this iconic race, in the city where she started living her American dream,” said Deirdre.

Deirdre’s love for her grandma, and her commitment to ensuring other families don’t lose loved ones to pancreatic cancer like she did, are motivating her to train hard. She’s excited that her grandpa and other relatives, friends, colleagues, and running club members will be in New York City on November 5 to cheer her on at the race. Deirdre is motivated to run the marathon to help increase awareness of pancreatic cancer and the need for more research. She wants patients to have more time with their families, and she believes that with an increased investment in research, we will get closer to a cure.

“I’m certainly not the only young person to lose someone to this devastating disease, and I unfortunately won’t be the last,” Deirdre said. “However, I believe that my single effort has the power to impact so many people.”

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