November is about pancreatic awareness

I’ve been advocating for pancreatic cancer awareness since October 2007. I can even tell you the exact day, Oct. 4, 2007, the day that my younger brother passed away from pancreatic cancer. Until he was diagnosed just 18 months earlier, basically all I knew about cancer was the pink ribbon, because cancer didn’t apply to me.

When someone says to me, “I don’t know anyone with pancreatic cancer,” I say, “Until March 2006, I didn’t either.” You never know when pancreatic cancer will affect your family. I’ve learned so much about this cancer since my brother was diagnosed. Most of it hasn’t been good.

This is the type of cancer that claimed the lives of actors Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon and Apple founder Steve Jobs. In August, pancreatic cancer also claimed the life of the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin. Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Greensburg is a pancreatic cancer survivor; her pancreatic cancer was found only because of her annual screening due to previous diagnosis of cancer.

In May of this year, CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), Julie Fleshman, visited West Virginia due to the success of grassroots advocacy here in West Virginia. In August, Fleshman was diagnosed with breast cancer. In her official statement she released, she said that her cancer was found early because of early screening due to the work of breast cancer advocates, which sets the standard for us to continue our efforts to raise pancreatic cancer awareness.

Fleshman’s cancer was caught at early stage due to early screening, which led to her surgery and successful removal of the tumor. She is now cancer-free! As of this date, there are no early screening methods for pancreatic cancer. By the time there is a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, its usually too late for effective treatment. When symptoms of pancreatic cancer present themselves, it is generally in later stages, and 73 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of their diagnosis, while 91 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first five years. Fortunately, since I’ve been volunteering, the five-year survival rate has grown from 6 percent to 9 percent. Pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate still in the single digits.

I’m so fortunate to have met pancreatic cancer survivors from all over the country, including several in the state of West Virginia. Wouldn’t it be great if they weren’t the exception, but the rule. It’s estimated that approximately 295 deaths will occur in West Virginia this year alone.

While overall cancer incidence and cancer death rates are declining, the incidence of pancreatic cancer and death rate for pancreatic cancer patients has been increasing. The number of new pancreatic cancer cases in the United States has been projected to increase by 55 percent between now and 2030.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and it would be wonderful if we could see just half the purple in November than that of pink in October. Specifically, Thursday, Nov. 15 is World Pancreatic Cancer Day sponsored by the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition. You will be seeing news media all around the state wearing purple, and I hope you will be wearing purple, also.

I’m asking everyone who reads this to learn more about pancreatic cancer: go to, and remember, wear purple on Nov. 15.

Annette Fetty-Santilli