Town Square colored purple for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day in Macon County
Draped in purple, with ribbons on their shirts, family and friends gathered on Town Square on Thursday evening to recognize Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day. As the fourth leading cause in cancer related death, pancreatic cancer stands as one of the deadliest cancers known to man. With little progress made in research in the last 30 years, 76 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of their diagnosis and 95 percent of patients die within the first five years.
Even with the alarming statistics around pancreatic cancer, it is ranked 11th when it comes to research funding. Pancreatic cancer kills twice as many Americans as AIDS, it receives 39 times less funding for research.
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. 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, enable doctors to make early diagnosis.
November is recognized nationally as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, and due to proclamations signed by the Franklin Town Aldermen and Macon County Board of Commissioners, Nov. 15 was deemed Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day in the county.
The push to bring awareness to what is considered a silent killer, can be attributed to Margaret Ramsey and her daughter- in-law, Teresa. The pair, along with friends and family, started “Cousins for a Cure” to shine light on the disease after their loved one, Diane Ramsey Forsyth, 56, was diagnosed on July 11 of this year.
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. Originally she was told her cancer would be fatal, but with lots of treatment, prayers and family support, Forsyth's mass has been reduced to 1 square centimeter, and will soon be surgically removed.
Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day was designed to bring awareness to one of the most unknown, but deadliest, cancers that exist today. Forsyth's older sister, Becky Estes, informed the crowd that Forsyth is slowly but surely fighting off the cancer and is determined to be in the minority of people who are able to survive. “She has every intention of winning the fight against this monster,” said Estes. “And she is also doing everything she can to let people know about the cancer ... Diane keeps saying that we must ‘Reach and Teach,’ and that is the purpose of this afternoon.”
Todd Raby, who lost his father, Tom, to pancreatic cancer, told the crowd that too many people don't know about the disease until it's too late. “When you are touched by pancreatic cancer, you don't know what it is until it is too late,” said Raby. “It is mean; it doesn't care who you are or where you live, or what your story is. It is tough.”
Raby and Teresa Ramsey asked all those in attendance to share out loud the names of loved ones who have fought or are currently fighting the disease, and nearly everyone in attendance had at least one name to say, many being able to say several in their memory.
The guest speaker for the event was Cherry Martin of Cullowhee. Five years after losing her father to pancreatic cancer, Martin was diagnosed with the disease herself. “Just five years after being a loved one and caregiver to someone with pancreatic cancer, I became the patient,” said Martin.
Martin's father died less than three months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer because the disease had spread to other portions of his body, making treatment out of the question. She was told to just make her father as comfortable as possible in his last days. His health deteriorated quickly, and soon he lost his life. “My dad became one of the 75 percent of people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and die within the first year,” said Martin. “He missed early detection because the symptoms he had were just common aches and pains that could be attributed to something else.
After watching her father struggle with the cancer, Martin was more cautious when she began having abdominal pain. Last fall she went to the doctor for abdominal pain but was diagnosed with gastritis complications. In February of this year, she went back to the doctor because the gastritis pain had become more severe. Six days after the pain began to intensify, Martin ended up in the emergency room at Mission Hospital. “By that time I had lost seven pounds and the pain had begun radiating to my back,” said Martin. “Five days later, on February 24, after having blood work and CT scans and other tests, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and it was a big surprise.”
Martin was diagnosed with the most common form of pancreatic cancer and had a mass in the head of her pancreas. Because doctors found it soon enough, Martin was a candidate for surgery, increasing her rate of survival. “While surgery is the best hope for survival, out of 100 patients who are diagnosed, only 15 to 20 are able to have the surgery,” said Martin.
After surgery, Martin had to have her gallbladder, intestines, and 12 lymph nodes removed along with the tumor. Martin was informed that the cancer had spread into her intestines and one lymph node, but doctors believe they have removed all the cancerous masses in her body.
Martin has had to undergo weeks of chemotherapy, and on Oct. 24, finished her final round. While she has been cleared for the time being, Martin will have to have regular CT scans and oncology meetings for the rest of her life, because pancreatic cancer tends to come back in other parts of the body, even after it has been removed.
Like so many others who have been affected by the disease, Martin urged that the best defense against cancer is awareness. With so little being known about the cancer and so little funding being allocated for research, without knowledge and awareness, more and more people are going to lose the fight with pancreatic cancer.