In just a week, I’ll be running my first half marathon. I’m doing this to raise both awareness of pancreatic cancer, and hopefully motivate people to action. I’m running with PANCAN’s team hope (PANCAN is the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network). PANCAN’s slogan is simple: KNOW IT. FIGHT IT. END IT.
My focus with this letter is on the first of these: KNOW IT. So if you could spare me a minute or two of your attention, I would very much appreciate it! If at the end of this, you are so inclined, donate a bit of money. I’d rather see 100 people donate $5 and understand why they should care about this disease (or send me a note letting me know you support the cause even if you can’t donate) then see 5 people donate $100. But even better: have 200 people read this.
Here are some important facts about pancreatic cancer:
- 90% of those who develop pancreatic cancer are random — there appears to be no genetic component to it. 10% is familial pancreatic cancer. Depending on the set of genes inherited, this group has 30-70% chance of developing pancreatic cancer in their lifetime. Familial pancreatic cancer is defined as two or more first degree relatives. Most specialists would put me, as well as other of my family members, in this category as I’ve lost both my dad and my grandma to this disease. I do not know if I have any (or which) of the genes implicated so far. Nor do my family members. Frankly there isn’t much point in knowing given the statistics below.
- Currently the prognosis for those diagnosed is that 70% will die within one year of diagnosis and only 6% will survive past 5 years.
- The reason for the abysmal statistic in #2 is that there are no early detection methods, so pancreatic cancer is often detected too late for surgery to be an option. It has so far largely eluded researchers ability to beat it via chemo (or reduce it enough so that surgery is an option). A recent “successful” clinical trial on a new chemo drug combination for pancreatic cancer showed that it added 8 weeks to a patient’s life. 8 weeks. Not months. Not years.
- In just 15 years (by 2030) pancreatic cancer will be the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related death. The first (which is true now) is lung cancer, which is largely preventable in a way that pancreatic cancer is not.
So why should you care about these statistic? Because even if you don’t have a family history, that doesn’t mean you can’t get this disease. And in 15 years, when you may be over 50 like me, your risk increases appreciably.
And without sustained research into this disease NOW, the picture in 15 years will remain bleak. Part of why pancreatic cancer will kill more people than breast and colon cancer (which are currently higher than pancreatic cancer) is because in the last 20 years we have developed very effective early screening methods and much more powerful treatment options for breast and colon cancer. These cancers can now be caught and treated early and people survive as result.
Sustained research into pancreatic cancer will lead to improved outcomes, but it has to be done now to really stem the tide. Maybe you don’t have a family member now that has the disease, but given the current set of statistics, the odds that you will are increasing as the rates of the disease are increasing. It’s a scary picture, but not an unhopeful one. My hope is that if I get it, I’m well into my 80s or it’s far enough down the road that the prognosis has significantly improved due to early detection and better treatment.
You may feel like $5 doesn’t make a difference. In fact you could argue that the $2000 that I pledged to raise won’t make a difference. But I disagree. $2000 is about 2 weeks of a “fully loaded” graduate student’s time (i.e. includes the cost of their tuition, research stipend, healthcare benefits and the administrative overhead on those). And that “I wonder if…” moment, the one that leads to the breakthroughs, is just a moment. And there are a lot of moments in 2 weeks. $5 covers one of those moments. And a few of those will be all it takes to really start turning the tide on this disease.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, you’ve already supported me and PANCAN by doing so (KNOW IT). But if you feel like taking the next step (FIGHT IT), please donate here: http://teamhope.kintera.org/grandmas/lnhillesheim. And together we can END IT.