Katy and her grandpa's fight against pancreatic cancer
My life has rarely unfolded in a way that I would describe as “expected,” and this summer is no exception. On June 14th, I will be next to my mom at the US Capitol in Washington, DC advocating for Congress to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act. We are going in honor of her father, my grandfather. He was diagnosed with locally advanced pancreatic cancer on April 1, 2010 in what has been the most abysmal April Fool’s Day occurrence to my memory.
Over a year later, he is still fighting for his life. He has undergone extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and in spite of the enormous physical and emotional toll this has taken on him, the tumor in his pancreas has remained stable, wrapped around a major blood vessel so intricately that it cannot be removed. The dignity and tenacity with which he has fought this illness is astounding to me, and I am moved by how generous, loving, and strong all of my family members have shown themselves to be. It can’t be denied, however, that this disease has been nothing less than devastating. It has become one of the most significant events in my life. In the grand, statistic scheme of things, however, this one story is just a tiny piece of a tremendous, poisonous epidemic.
Here are many numbers and facts. They’re important to me. Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in this country and kills people of all ages.The American Cancer Society reports that of the nearly 44,000 people who will be diagnosed this year, around 75% of these people will die within 12 months. 96% will be gone within five years. You have a one-in-71 chance of having it in your lifetime.
The reasons behind this insane mortality rate are not complex. This type of cancer is nearly undetectable until it becomes very advanced. There are very few noticeable symptoms. More striking is the fact that while this disease is a leading cause of cancer death, funding for pancreatic cancer research is minimal compared to that of other cancers. This is the only major cancer which has not seen a significant improvement in survival rates in the last 40 years. The government has not provided any type of comprehensive research and awareness strategy for this disease. Other illnesses such as breast cancer have become widely publicized and supported and have seen advances, and the same should become true for pancreatic cancer. There is no clearly understood cause, there is no form of early detection, there is no effective treatment, and there is very little public awareness of this cancer.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is a national organization which works to promote awareness, funding, and research for the disease. Their goal is to double the survival rate by 2020. Volunteers like my mom and me will spend June 14th, Advocacy Day, attempting to communicate these needs to elected officials. If any of this information has made an impact on you, or if you know me, I personally ask that you google “Pancan National Call-In” to find out how you can email your elected officials on this day to help advocate for the cause. Please also see pancan.org for more information and resources.
Additionally, if your life has been affected by pancreatic cancer, I would love to hear your story. Please email me at
. Finally, although this article in no way can justify what my grandpa has gone through over the last year, I just want the general world to know that I love and respect him very much. Thank you for reading.