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Small gestures may lead to 'gallons of hope'

Marykate Ducharme Sawyer at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut one month before her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD West Springfield native Marykate Ducharme Sawyer believed that one small gesture of kindness by many could create one large change in the quality of people's lives.

Almost one year after her death from pancreatic cancer, Sawyer's younger sisters, Michelle Ducharme of West Springfield and Maura Ducharme of Madison, Wis., have chosen to follow her example by raising funds for the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research in her honor.

The sisters have established the "Gallons of Hope" fundraiser and are asking for donations in the amount of the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Maura explained that given the difficult economic times they thought that a small donation of $3.69 or $3.49 would be feasible for families on modest incomes.

"The anniversary of her death [on Oct. 27] was approaching and it was so painful .this channels the sorrow into something meaningful," Michelle said. "Any cancer diagnosis is shocking to a family and then to find out that particular cancer is lethal [is even more shocking]."

Those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have a survival rate of three to six months and have a less than five percent chance of living for five more years. Sawyer was diagnosed in July 2007 and died three months later at the age of 43, despite chemotherapy treatment. She left behind her husband and her two teenage children.

"There are so many wonderful people in this world [that] are affected by cancer," Michelle said. "I know everyone has their cause. This one is ours now. You never get over it [the death of a loved one] but to do nothing that could change this story for someone else, her death would be in vain."

Maura said her sister was able to teach her the importance of small kindnesses and volunteerism, not just during the holidays but all year round.

"I perceive that Kate taught my family and me more about being a truly good person in her life than I think we realized when she was alive," Maura said.

She added that Sawyer was a devoted mother and educator who gave up teaching at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton after the birth of her children. Sawyer was also an avid volunteer as a Cub Scout den mother, Girl Scout troop leader and volunteer with the Highland Elementary School PTO.

"It's a pretty hopeless disease," Michelle said of pancreatic cancer, adding that she hopes that this fundraising campaign will lead to advanced research and the possibility of survival for those diagnosed.

Michelle noted that she will be hosting a tag sale during Columbus Day weekend to boost the fundraising efforts.

Donations can be mailed to Gallons of Hope, PO Box 513, West Springfield, MA 01090. Checks should be made payable to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Research.

For more information about Gallons of Hope or the tag sale e-mail Michelle at

For more information about the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Research go to