I think we all know what a pink ribbon represents and that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But I’m guessing many of you don’t realize November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and purple is the awareness color. I didn’t know this either until last week when my mother-in-law’s work held a tree planting ceremony in honor of my father-in-law who passed away from pancreatic cancer in June.
My father-in-law was a seemingly healthy man. He didn’t smoke, abuse alcohol and other than high blood pressure, he was active and in good health. Last November, he complained of abdominal pain and was told by his doctor that his gallbladder would need to be removed after the holidays. My mother-in-law was more than relieved to hear it was his gallbladder and not something more serious. As a nurse, my mother-in-law is all too familiar with possible health risks and especially the severity of pancreatic cancer. But on the day of the surgery her biggest fears turned into reality. The doctors informed her that my father-in-law, David, had a functional gallbladder but he had tumors throughout his abdomen. The doctors were certain the tumors were cancerous but could not immediately confirm where the cancer originated. Days later, the pathology report conveyed the devastating news. David had stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had already spread to neighboring organs. A little more than 5 months later, David lost his battle and went home to be with the Lord. He was 62.
Fast forward 5 months and our entire family were all dressed in our best purple shirts, skirts and suits at Chamberlain College (where my mother-in-law works as Faculty Chair), listening to a presentation about the devastating facts of pancreatic cancer. And even though we had experienced this cancer first-hand, what we learned was eye-opening.
Here are the facts:
• There is no known cure.
• Pancreatic cancer is deadly and has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers.
• 94% of pancreatic cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis.
• 74% of patients die within the first year of diagnosis.
• The average life expectancy after diagnosis is three to six months.
• It is one of the few cancers that has not seen improved survival rates over the past 40 years.
• By 2020 deaths from pancreatic cancer are projected to increase by 53%.
• It is currently the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States with research showing it is quickly climbing to the number 2 spot only behind lung cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is viciously robbing us of our lives and the lives of our friends and families. But here’s the kicker. We don’t know the causes or what preventative measures can be taken to catch it before the cancer starts its deadly pursuit. It’s simply appalling there is something so deadly out there we know so little about. The sad reality is pancreatic cancer is one of the most under-funded, under-recognized and least studied cancer killers with only 2% of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget dedicated to it’s research.
But there is hope. In September the United States House of Representatives passed unanimously the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act. The bill requires the National Cancer Institute to create a long-term plan for pancreatic and other recalcitrant cancers that includes evaluating its current efforts in the disease and making recommendations on ways to accelerate progress and improve outcomes. Julie Fleshman, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network said, “the passage of this bill is a critical step towards reaching our goal to double the pancreatic cancer survival rate by 2020.”
So what can we do in the meantime? Raise awareness and donate funds! Without money research cannot be conducted and, without research, we’ll remain in the dark ages of this disease. Purple Strides is a charity running organization that puts on more than 50 Purple Strides events across the country. While there are currently no Purple Strides races in Jacksonville you can run to help end pancreatic cancer on Saturday, Nov. 18 in Orlando and Sunday, Nov. 19 in South Florida. Funds raised will help provide support for patients and support research grants and advocacy efforts to increase federal pancreatic cancer research funding. You can also donate straight to the National Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. And most importantly, you can raise awareness to eradicate this disease from our children’s generation.
Know it. Fight it. End it. And wear your purple.
If you have lost a loved one to pancreatic cancer there are several support groups throughout Jacksonville including:
Pancreatic Cancer Action network, Jacksonville Affiliate, 6:30 p.m. third Thursday, Mayo Clinic, Cannaday Building, Room 1106. (904) 553-3233 or pancan.org.
Cancer Resources and support group, for survivors, their families and/or caregivers, 2:30-3:30 p.m. first and third Tuesdays, Mayo Clinic. (904) 953-6286.
Cancer support group, presented by VITAS Innovative Hospice Care of Jacksonville, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Thursdays, MCCI Medical Group, 3450 Dunn Ave., Suite 201. Registration, (904) 371-3310.
Beaches cancer support group, 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Florida Cancer Care Center lobby, 1375 Roberts Drive, Building B, Suite 100, Jacksonville Beach. (904) 247-2920.
Christian Cancer support group, third Thursday, Mandarin United Methodist Church, 11270 San Jose Blvd. (904) 268-5549.
Friends Christian Cancer Care support group, 5:30-7 p.m. first and third Monday, Wilson Cancer Care Center Beaches, 1375 Roberts Drive, Suite 105, Jacksonville Beach. Led by oncologist Morris S. Dees III and the Rev. Elizabeth Barnhardt Israel, cancer overcomer. (904) 270-9707 or friendsccg.com.
Hope Cancer Support Group for Women, 7-8:30 p.m. first Tuesday, Orange Park Cancer Center, 2161 Kingsley Ave., Suite 200. (904) 538-3673.
* November is also Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (have you heard of Movember yet?) and Epilepsy Awareness Month, another cause that is near and dear to my heart as my 10-year-old nephew suffers form seizures. But that’s for another post!