Today marks the start of PanCAN Action Week as pancreatic cancer survivors and advocates work to raise awareness about the world’s deadliest form of cancer, and to raise more federal funds for research.
Beth Day of Urbandale, a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor, says they usually go to Washington D.C. to lobby lawmakers in person, but due to the pandemic, they’ll be making their case by phone.
“We are calling it Voices in Action and we want to be heard,” Day says. “We are calling our senators and we’re going to do some Facetime videos and just tell them that it’s claimed too many lives.” Day, who was diagnosed on Memorial Day weekend of 2014, says there’s an urgent need for more research funding to develop better treatment options as well as an early detection method to help change patient outcomes.
“All cancers are important but when there is one that doesn’t have a test…” Day says. “When you are diagnosed, you’re usually Stage 3 or 4 — and it’s too late.” When federal research funding increases, Day says so do pancreatic cancer survival rates.
“We need to be heard. We want to advocate for the friends and loved ones we’ve lost and for the people that are yet to be diagnosed,” Day says, “because 450 Iowans will die from pancreatic cancer in a year.” When Day was diagnosed, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer was only four percent. Today, it’s ten percent. While that’s progress, it’s nothing compared to the five-year breast cancer survival rate of 95%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated what researchers can really do when they’re properly motivated — and well funded.
“I am so surprised how fast the vaccine came,” Day says. “Yes, it affected everyone in the world and I said, ‘If they could only use that money fast to help find cures for cancer — for pancreatic cancer.’ It’s just amazing that medical science can do that.”
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.