Thanksgiving is a hopeful time for families and friends to share meals and memories. When a family member is missing because of illness or death, a hopeful occasion can be transformed into sadness. Such is the case, especially, for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, ranked third as the leading cause of death in the United States. By 2020, it will be second. Seventy-one percent of patients die within the first year of diagnosis.
To raise awareness of this deadly disease, the Pancreatic Cancer Action network (PanCAN) is advocating for allocation of a portion of the “Cancer Moonshot” funds in the National Institutes of Health budget to research the recalcitrant cancers, including pancreatic cancer, that have five-year survival rates below 50 percent. Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive; there are no early detection methods, no proven biomarkers, or clues in blood or bodily fluids. As a result, most pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed in late stage, often too late for surgical intervention.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, on my motion, declared last Thursday, November 17, as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day in Fairfax County, joining other jurisdictions around the country in a common effort to provide information about this deadly disease. Gail Coleman, a Mason District constituent and president of the Annandale Christian Community for Action, told me of her personal experiences with pancreatic cancer. Her mother was diagnosed at age 65, and died just three weeks after diagnosis. Her father was diagnosed at age 80, and he died three weeks later. Gail’s husband, Ken Bruntel, was diagnosed at age 64, and the doctors thought it was caught early enough to explore treatment. Sadly, hopes were dashed when he died four months later, not long after a bittersweet 65th birthday celebration.
Not surprisingly, Gail is laser-focused in her advocacy for more research, more education, and more understanding about pancreatic cancer. It should not be a death sentence, but many pancreatic cancer patients go untreated or undertreated after diagnosis, even at early stages. A recent survey of patients revealed that nearly half of them were not even told about clinical trial options by their physicians. Even though the disease is aggressive, matching the patient to the right clinical trial can result in meaningful advances in treatment. PanCAN’s slogan is “Wage Hope.” Early detection, enhanced research, and increased awareness of pancreatic cancer can bring that hope closer to thousands of American families and their loved ones. More information about pancreatic cancer is available at www.pancan.org.
Marie Travesky served as the Springfield District Supervisor from 1977 to 1984, and was known for her expertise in transportation issues. Marie died last week after a short illness. She always kept her age a secret, so it was a surprise to learn that she was 84. Marie was active as a consultant for transportation issues in Northern Virginia for the past three decades, whose work brought her often to Mason District. She was a gracious, smart, and elegant lady, and I was pleased to know her as a friend.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]