Last month, a vibrant sea of purple engulfed the Santa Monica pier, as thousands of individuals gathered for a cause close to their hearts. With a 12% survival rate, pancreatic cancer is known as one of the most deadly cancers. The urgency to raise awareness and support has never been greater.
After the devastating loss of her father, Julie Fleshman, CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN), has made it her mission to drive meaningful change in the fight against pancreatic cancer. “My father was diagnosed in 1999. He died four months later. I couldn’t believe that there were no options for him,” Fleshman said.
So Fleshman worked to change the narrative. With no early detection test, diagnosis often comes after a long and arduous journey. “The first doctor told my father to go home, take some Tums, and he’d feel better. When he had jaundice, the yellowing of the skin, it’s kind of the final symptom where they are diagnosed.”
At the time, there was minimal research on the subject matter. “We didn’t have a support system, an organization for us to go to. When he died four months later, I was really mad. That anger and energy has now been funneled into PANCAN over the last 20 years,” Fleshman said.
And thus, PANCAN was established, an organization that has become a lifeline for families and patients affected by pancreatic cancer. Their early detection initiative emphasizes the importance of recognizing symptoms such as back pain, stomach pain, jaundice, and unexplained weight loss. “It can be like you’re losing weight and you don’t know why. I tell people to pay attention to their bodies. If you know something’s not right, talk to your doctor or be your own best advocate,” Fleshman said.
PANCAN’s transformative patient service program is life-changing. “Patients and families can call in, get connected to a trained case manager, who can then provide them with comprehensive information about the scene from treatment options to finding a specialist for pancreatic cancer.” Fleshman recommends all patients see a pancreatic cancer specialist and consider clinical trials every step of their journey.
Over the last two decades, pancreatic cancer has been a catalyst for federal resources. “Today there is a robust pancreatic cancer research community that didn’t exist. Most major institutions have a pancreatic cancer research lab and are studying the disease,” Fleshman said. This progress is not only inspiring, but it fuels the determination to achieve even greater milestones in the future.
In the battle against cancer, hope emerges as a driving force for individuals and their loved ones. “It’s about honoring life and the incredible power of hope,” Jean Trebek said who is the wife of Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy!, who passed from pancreatic cancer. “Just from our little neck of the woods, here in Los Angeles, along with maybe 60 other cities, we are all coming together, and had been affected by this devastating disease.” To see such a diverse group of people, all united through the power of hope, Trebek recognized its beauty. “Hope is what truly sustains and supports us through uncertain and challenging times. Those feelings, and those thoughts have not changed. In fact, they only increased over time. Many of us have been through a lot of changes lately. And I think it’s safe to say that it’s bittersweet change is not easy,” Trebek said.
“We’re beginning to fight and win this battle against cancer. I was with Jeffrey Archer, who’s a writer and cancer survivor. And he said, ‘We think we can beat cancer in 30 years…we can completely eradicate it. So let’s work towards that. Let’s give everybody a decent life and a decent chance to live out their lives,” comedian and actor Eric Idle said who is a four year survivor of pancreatic cancer.
“I wanted to carry on my father’s legacy, but now I’ve also been touched by so many other people who have experienced something similar,” Fleshman said.
The fight against pancreatic cancer necessitates collective action. PANCAN welcomes individuals to volunteer with their 60 affiliates nationwide, providing an opportunity to actively contribute to the cause. Additionally, making donations through pancan.org amplifies the impact of each contribution, enabling PANCAN to continue their invaluable work. Fundraising for PanCAN PurpleStride is open through June.