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Searching for a Cure 

Pancreatic cancer is a deadly disease that we need to learn more about

Nine and a half years ago, my family was told that my 54-year-old sister had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That is a diagnosis that you NEVER want to hear. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It is estimated that this year 42,470 Americans will be diagnosed with this disease and 35,240 will die.

Little is known about pancreatic cancer, and federal funding for research into this disease lags behind other leading cancer killers. Pancreatic cancer research today is where breast cancer research was in the 1930s. There are no early detection methods, and there is no cure.

Recent research indicates that approximately 10 percent of pancreatic cancer cases have a genetic link, and another 30 percent are thought to result from cigarette smoking. Some of the other risk factors scientists are currently studying include: diabetes, chronic and hereditary pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), obesity, physical activity and diet. Many patients finally receive the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer when they seek medical attention for jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Jaundice typically occurs as the result of the pancreatic tumor growing large enough to block the bile duct. Often, the disease is too advanced at this point to be treated successfully.

Federal funding is not keeping pace with potential innovation. The toll of pancreatic cancer is even more tragic because it is unnecessary. Pancreatic cancer research constitutes less than 2 percent of the National Cancer Institutes federal research funding — a figure far too low given the severity of the disease, its mortality rate and how little is known about how to arrest it. This has to change. We must take action to ensure scientific progress is made to give pancreatic cancer patients a fighting chance. We need our members of Congress to co-sponsor The Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act so that we will have the necessary funding to make true progress against this disease. This is critical now more than ever because the number of pancreatic cancer patients is projected to increase by 12 percent in 2009 and by 55 percent by 2030.

Shortly after my sister’s diagnosis, I discovered the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (www.pancan.org). This is a grassroots organization, founded by people like myself who had lost a loved one to this beast of a disease. The organization is a nationwide network of people dedicated to working together to advance research, support patients and create hope for those affected by pancreatic cancer.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network raises money for direct private funding of research and advocates for more aggressive federal research funding of medical breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

The Patient and Liaison Services program (PALS) fills the void of information and options by giving patients and caregivers the personalized and reliable information they need to make informed decisions. They help individuals and communities across the country to work together to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and the funds to find a cure.

After nine years of doing local awareness and some fundraising myself, in May I contacted some local people I knew whose lives had been touched by this disease to start the Idaho Affiliate of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Three and a half short months later, and with lots of hard work, our dedicated team planned our first fundraiser, “Cruisin’ for a Cure,” a ’50s-themed cruise on beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. We had a sell-out crowd and raised funds from the silent auction to benefit the organization. Our next event, to honor November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, will be a breakfast at the Coeur d’Alene Applebee’s, on November 21, from 8-10 am. Tickets are $7 each. You may contact me at khlebichuk@pancanvolunteer.org if you are interested in purchasing a ticket for the breakfast or becoming involved with our local affiliate.

In loving memory of my dear sister, Barb, the many others who we have lost, and those who are still battling this disease, the fight must continue against pancreatic cancer.

Kathy Hlebichuk is the Idaho Affiliate Coordinator for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (www.pancan.org)

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