Community working together to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer
The Macon County community is coming together to recognize November as National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month. Led by the mother-daughter team Margaret and Teresa Ramsey, the community is joining forces to bring awareness to one of the deadliest cancers.
Inspired by her daughter, Diane Ramsey Forsyth, who at 56 was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on July 11 of this year, Margaret felt compelled to begin a tireless journey to bring awareness to the disease.
By 2020, pancreatic cancer will become the second leading cause of all cancer-related deaths. Despite it currently being the fourth deadliest cancer, only two percent of National Cancer Center research funding goes toward pancreatic cancer research. In addition to being underfunded for research, pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate in the single digits at just six percent. This year, nearly 44,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and more than 37,000 will die from the disease. There are no early detection methods and few effective treatment options exist.
As the national leader in the fight against pancreatic cancer, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has a bold goal to double the pancreatic cancer survival rate by 2020. Pancreatic cancer is currently 48 times more deadly than AIDS and more than 17 times deadlier than breast cancer based on life expectancy, and five year survival rates, which are now 94 percent for AIDS and 89 percent for breast cancer. 75 percent of patients diagnosed with this disease will die within a year of diagnosis. Though pancreatic cancer kills twice as many Americans than AIDS, it receives 39 times less funding for research.
Generally, by the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, it has usually spread to other organs. In the other major cancers, widespread use of screenings such as mammograms, chest X-rays, PSA tests, and colonoscopies, enables doctors to make early diagnosis.
In support of Ramsey's efforts to bring awareness, Franklin's Board of Aldermen joined the Macon County Board of Commissioners in unanimously approving a proclamation not only designating November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in the county, but specifically Nov. 15 as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness day.
“There have been so many people affected by this disease and there is not enough done to raise awareness,” said Mayor Joe Collins. “On behalf of the town board, I commend Margaret for her efforts to raise awareness.”
Ramsey has organized an event at Town Square on Nov. 15 at 5 p.m. with guest speakers to help raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. Everyone is encouraged to wear purple, the color of National Pancreatic Cancer Month.
Diane Ramsey Forsyth, who grew up in Franklin, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year in July. When she was diagnosed, doctors found a mass that was 30 square centimeters, or the size of a clementine. According to doctors, the mass had been growing for 18 months to two years.
A nurse for 35 years, right up until she was diagnosed Forsyth had more knowledge than the average person about pancreatic cancer, but still never suspected she had it. “I knew a lot more than most people and I still didn't think that I had it,” said Forsyth. “I didn't have any of the symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, or change in skin color. I just had abdominal pain.”
Because of the lack of research on the cancer, and the size of her cancerous mass, doctors told her that the mass was inoperable and the disease would more than likely be fatal.
Forsyth finished her chemotherapy treatment on Wednesday of this week. “Tomorrow is my last big day of chemotherapy,” she said. “Over the last four months I have had eight rounds of treatment. After just four treatments, the mass went from 30 square centimeters to just six.”
Since the chemotherapy was able to shrink the mass, Forsyth was approved for surgery, which is scheduled for February. Beginning Nov. 19, she will begin radiation treatment five days a week for the six weeks leading up to the surgery to remove the mass.
In addition to the treatments ordered by her doctors, the week after receiving her diagnosis, Forsyth began receiving acupuncture treatments to help with the pain and nausea. According to Forsyth, the hardest part of the disease is being so tired. Despite balancing doctor appointments and being drained from the treatment and fighting the cancer, Forsyth continues to fight for her life everyday.
“You just can't let it beat you,” said Forsyth. “Today I went and did pilates, did 3.4 miles on the elliptical on levels eight and nine, did all my weights and went to the grocery store.”
One driving factor behind her inspiration to fight for her life, literally, is the strength and encouragement of her family. “My mother is so amazing, she just lives on the phone to do whatever she can to bring awareness to the disease,” said Forsyth. “She is an absolute angel, just the best mom in the whole entire world.”
A website has been created called www.grititude.com to raise awareness and fund research. Grititude means Girls Raised in the South with Attitude. For more information about Diane or ways to help in the fight against pancreatic cancer visit www.grititude.com.