Iowans whose lives have been touched by pancreatic cancer are optimistic Friday’s death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg allows people to understand more about what’s considered the world’s toughest form of cancer.
Beth Day of Urbandale is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer who volunteers with the Des Moines affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PanCAN. “Hopefully, this will bring even more awareness than other ‘famous’ and influential people having it,” Day says, “because it’s not really talked about and I hope it brings more awareness and more knowledge and people learning about their bodies.”
Just last year, Alex Trebek, host of the TV quiz show “Jeopardy!” announced he was stepping down to be treated for pancreatic cancer. When Day was diagnosed in 2014, she says the five-year survival rate was only 4%, while it’s since been elevated to 10%.
“It’s not improved that much but it is an improvement,” Day says. “I think there are more trials, there’s always more money needed and it’s the one cancer you can’t diagnose until it’s already in your body.”
Statistics find about 580 Iowans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and 430 of them will die from it, while it’s the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Day says she had long suffered from stomach aches and had never been able to pin down a cause. “I just kept bothering my doctor saying, ‘Something’s not right with my body,’ and trying to figure it out and I’d be hungry and couldn’t eat,” Day says. “I wound up, they found a blocked bile duct and during that test, they saw that my pancreas had cancer.”
The fast-moving disease is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be vague and are often ignored until it’s too late. They include abdominal pain and back pain, changes in stool, yellowing skin, weight loss, appetite loss, and a feeling of being full after only eating a little food.
Coincidentally, this weekend is the state PanCAN’s annual fundraiser, Purple Stride Iowa, with walks being held virtually due to COVID-19.