Pam Anderson, of Clive, says in order to fight the world’s most deadly cancer, people need to be aware of the possible symptoms, though they’re often mistaken for something else or disregarded entirely.
“They are very vague and that’s the problem,” Anderson says. “You could have abdominal pain, back pain, digestive issues — which is what I had. Jaundice, by the time you get to jaundice, you’re usually pretty far into it. Unexpected weight loss, it’s things like that that a lot of people just ignore.”
The survival rate for pancreatic cancer remains the lowest of all cancers, but that rate moved up from six- to ten-percent in the past several years.
“When I was diagnosed, I had a 6% chance of being on this phone call today,” Anderson says. “To me, that’s a big jump. It doesn’t seem like a big jump to the world and it’s certainly not good enough. Six-hundred people will be diagnosed in Iowa this year, more than 500 of those will die. That’s really a terrible statistic.”
Pancreatic cancer has claimed the lives of several notable figures in recent months, including Georgia Representative John Lewis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and game show host Alex Trebek.
Anderson, who volunteers with the Des Moines affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, was diagnosed in July of 2015. She acknowledges she’s among the rare, very lucky survivors and says it’s absolutely changed her outlook on life.
“I’m a grandmother who spends a great deal of time with her grandchildren,” Anderson says. “I want to pay it forward as much as I can. I shout it from the rooftops that I’m a survivor. Anybody who knows me knows I had pancreatic cancer because I don’t hide it. I’m living my life. I do think we all approach life differently when your own mortality stares you in the face.”
Learn more about the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States at www.pancan.org.