In the young man's "hero story," he talked about being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He repeatedly said, "Know it. Fight it. End it." His tale was sobering.
In its telling, he had not yet succumbed to the disease that has the lowest overall survival rate of all the major cancers. He clearly knew that only 6 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than five years and 74 percent die within the first year of diagnosis, statistics that have remained virtually unchanged for more than 40 years.
This young individual's story echoes that of others, people you know personally — family members, close friends, a neighbor, the person you used to sit next to in church, perhaps. It's a sneaky form of cancer, sometimes called "silent," because there aren't many symptoms. If they're present — abdominal pain, back pain, loss of appetite, for example — they're often vague and hard to pinpoint, hence the need for more research focused on early detection.
There are no standard diagnostic tests for pancreatic cancer. It's elusive to identify and difficult to treat once diagnosed. And it's on the increase at an absolutely alarming rate.
Pancreatic cancer used to be mentioned only rarely in discussions about the various forms of cancer. Now it's the third-leading cause of cancer death in Oregon and is climbing toward second place nationally. Almost once every 12 minutes, someone is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Most of us don't even know where our pancreas is or what purpose it serves. For the record, the pancreas is a gland about six inches long in the abdomen that has both digestive and endocrine system responsibilities.
In Southern Oregon, there's not much of an organized advocacy effort directed toward awareness, early detection and effective treatment of this recalcitrant cancer. But a few committed and knowledgeable people want to change that.
On Sunday, March 24, they will host a community forum. It's co-sponsored by the Providence Cancer Center and Ascension Lutheran Church and will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church, 675 Black Oak Dr., in Medford.
Dr. Peter Adesman, a local gastroenterologist, will facilitate a discussion among several cancer specialists. Dr. Pippa Newell from the Providence Cancer Center in Portland will be the keynote speaker.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action network (www.pancan.org) leads the way in this effort. They are sponsoring an initiative to grow the community of scientists involved in pancreatic cancer research and in increasing research dollars for this purpose. In 2011, only 2 percent of the National Cancer Institute's $5 billion budget went toward pancreatic cancer.
Let's do this. Know it. Fight it. End it. See you on the 24th.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com