5 things you may not know about pancreatic cancer

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so I thought this would be a good time to fill you in on some stats.

  1. It’s the #4 cancer killer in the U.S. The overall survival rate is less than 5%. I first read this stat in a computer lab in college, when my mom was sick. Later, I bawled my eyes out.
  2. The symptoms are super-sneaky. Back pain was my mom’s only clue, and she tried months of physical therapy and even acupuncture before getting the right diagnosis.
  3. It spreads fast. Because the symptoms lurk so quietly, early diagnosis is rare. By the time my mom was diagnosed, the cancer had already spread from her pancreas to her liver. This meant she was no longer eligible for the only surgery that could have saved her life. (It can only be performed if the cancer hasn’t spread).
  4. There’s still hope. Amazing organizations like The Lustgarten Foundation and PanCAN raise money and awareness about pancreatic cancer specifically. Doctors amaze me, too. My mom saw one of the best and brightest in NYC. He always had new research, alternate therapies, and an optimistic vibe. Without him, I know my mom wouldn’t have beaten her odds and lived for 2 ½ years.
  5. Even celebs get it. Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti passed away in 2007. Professor and The Last Lecture author Randy Pausch passed away this year. Actor Patrick Swayze is alive and fighting. Who cares if his pants were too tight in “Dirty Dancing”? Let’s pray for him. (Right: Swayze bringing sexy back in 1989. Photo courtesy of Alan Light.)
*Note: The stats about pancreatic cancer are based on my mom’s experience and research cited by The American Cancer Society, The Lustgarten Foundation, and other sources.