PHILIPPI - The third annual PurpleLight West Virginia event that took place recently in Philippi was a chance for participants to remember loved ones who perished from pancreatic cancer.
But the event, which was held in the Barbour County Courthouse gazebo, was also an opportunity for volunteers to raise awareness about the suffering of those currently coping with the disease.
As people gathered inside the gazebo to listen to West Virginia Community Representative Annette Fetty-Santilli with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network give a ceremonial speech, flickering lights illuminated the purple ribbons displayed on luminaries from the courthouse steps.
"By honoring and by remembering, we are creating awareness about pancreatic cancer," Fetty-Santilli said. "The most important reason we are here today, is to connect - to know that we are not alone."
During the event, bright purple glow sticks went off one by one as attendees listened for the names of loved ones lost to or still fighting pancreatic cancer. A photo slideshow paired faces with the names of many who have lost the fight against the deadly disease.
With her young daughters in tow, Denise Bray of Barbour County attended the ceremony because of her husband, who currently battles the cancer.
"My husband was diagnosed almost 16 months ago," Bray said, adding that he was unable to attend the event with the family. "I think it's important for me and my girls to honor him. He's been a trooper, and he's fought. He's our hero. He's still working full-time."
A four-and-a-half-year survivor said that humor was important when battling the disease.
"Humor helps you make fun of the things that happen to you," Janet Haught of Charleston said, adding that she drove the distance from the state's capital because "it's worth it."
The ceremony was one of 70 in the nation occurring on the same day as part of the PurpleLight National Vigil for Hope. According to a press release submitted by Fetty-Santilli, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
But not everyone who attended the event brought with them a survival story. Some were honoring their fallen heroes or family members. Terry Stone of Thomas said she lost her brother to pancreatic cancer in 2005. She came to the PurpleLight event to honor his memory and to support the awareness efforts of Fetty-Santilli, who - like Stone - has lost a brother to the disease.
"She's worked very hard on behalf of pancreatic cancer awareness," Stone said. "It's such a difficult cancer to diagnose. My brother lived in Texas and was diagnosed. They said he had six months and he was gone in five weeks. It was very difficult for the family."
Bray's children, Madi Bray, 5, Dani Bray, 6, Kasi Bray, 7, and Sami Bray, 9, were all thanked during the ceremony for their help with lighting the luminaries on the courthouse steps. Fetty-Santilli also thanked the Barbour County Commission for the use of the pavilion. She gave a special thanks to Regional Coordinator Todd Anderson with the office of Sen. Joe Manchin III, who appeared at the event on behalf of the senator.
"We hope you will report back to Sen. Manchin how important this cause is to us and the importance for funding research for pancreatic cancer," Fetty-Santilli said.
An estimated 45,200 people will have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the end of 2013, and about 38,460 others are estimated to lose the battle with the disease this year, the press release states. There is no method of early detection.
November is pancreatic cancer awareness month. Fetty-Santilli challenges everyone to show support and help raise awareness for the cancer by wearing purple on Nov. 22, Purple with a Purpose Day.
For more information about pancreatic cancer, visit www.purplelight.org or www.pancan.org. For more localized information about state efforts to fight against pancreatic cancer, call Fetty-Santilli at 304-709-2691 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.