By Kelly Cooper
As I contemplate this season of giving thanks, I realize how much I have to be thankful for. I live in a wonderful community with some of the most generous and giving people I’ve ever been associated with. I have wonderful kids and grandkids who fill my days with joy and friends who continue to lift me up.
November is also Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. In May of 2010, my husband Jim Cooper was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. He lost his battle in January 2011. In those 8 months we fought pancreatic cancer, I learned how deadly this cancer is and how little progress has been made in diagnosis and treatment.
During his illness, after every test, oncology appointment, chemo treatment and hospital visit, deep inside I would hold onto hope; hope that he would improve with treatment; hope that he could hold on until a viable treatment could be found. Sadly, that would not be the case for us. We were very fortunate to have the extremely qualified doctors, hospital staff and home health professionals to guide us as we made this journey; No more driving or flying up the road for chemo treatments. Family and friends are able to receive treatment right here in Homer with the oncology clinic and infusion therapy department at our outstanding hospital.
Pancreatic cancer has dismal survival rates. More than 50 percent of people diagnosed with PC don’t make it past the first year. The five-year survival rate is only 6 percent, and there hasn’t been an improvement in survival rates for over 40 years.
Over the past 30 years, there has been a revolution in science and medicine, resulting in increased survival rates for many diseases but, unfortunately, pancreatic cancer has not benefited from these advances because historically, there hasn’t been enough people who know about it. As a result, pancreatic cancer is the only one of the top cancer killers with a survival rate in the single digits. Even more alarming is that the disease is anticipated to move from the fourth to the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States by 2020; possibly as early as 2015.
We must change this. We can.
After my husband passed away, my mission became “raising awareness.” Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre proclaimed November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and next week Mayor Wythe will proclaim November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in Homer. I thank our elected officials for helping with awareness.
We’ve received amazing support by participating in health fairs, having articles and stories published in our local papers, and this year we had a team in Homer’s Relay for Life. We were “Coop’s PanCan Warriors.” Our team comprised our kids, grandkids, friends and high schoolers. I can’t begin to describe the energy these youth brought to our event.
Awareness translates to more research dollars, so that one day, we may have early diagnostic tests and even find viable treatment so if my children, grandchildren or friends have to face this diagnosis, they will have a fighting chance to beat this disease.
Currently, pancreatic cancer only receives 2 percent of the funding allocated for cancer research.
There is a bill before the senate called The Recalcitrant Research Cancer Act (formerly known as The Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act). The Bill addresses better allocation of funding for pancreatic cancer and other abdominal cancers. The House passed the bill prior to the election, and now it’s up to the Senate. I’m pleased that all three of our members of Congress already support the Recalcitrant Research Cancer Act and are co-sponsors of the bill.
On Thursday, Nov. 29, we will wrap up our month of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness by holding a Purple Light in the park on Pioneer Street from 6 to 6:30 p.m. If you have a family member or friend who is fighting pancreatic cancer or have lost someone to this disease, please call me at 299-1519 so I can be sure to have a purple glow stick reserved for you to honor your loved one. If you’re a community member and want to offer your support, I hope to see you there.
Now is the time to be a hero in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
Please visit www.pancanvision.org to learn more. Together we can make a difference and thanks Homer for helping with awareness through the power of purple.
Kelly Cooper serves on the South Peninsula Hospital Operating Board and the South Peninsula Hospital Foundation, the board of directors for the Homer Boys and Girls Club and the Homer Relay for Life. She is a long time Homer resident and frequent volunteer for organizations.
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