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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Nothing about beer, food, baseball, whiskey, or the PLCB here. I'd like to talk to you about pancreatic cancer, for two reasons.

First, this is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in America, and has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. This year, an estimated 42,470 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 76% of them will die within one year of the diagnosis. Yet pancreatic cancer research receives less than 2% of the National Cancer Institute's budget. It's not a hidden disease. Patrick Swayze, Justice Ruth Ginsburg, Steve Jobs, Randy "The Last Lecture" Pausch all had/have pancreatic cancer; chances are sadly quite good that you know someone who did.

And that's my second reason. Next Thursday, November 12, will mark one year since my dad told me he had pancreatic cancer. As he said at the time, when he handed me the green folder with his diagnostic report in it, "There's no easy way to say this."

As I learned more about pancreatic cancer and its bleak prognosis over the next few weeks, "no easy way" loomed large in my mind. Our calendar seemed suddenly, cruelly short. We gained hope when we learned his tumor was small, more when chemotherapy and radiation -- including a clinical trial of a new regimen that my father undertook, painful and wearying though it was -- shrank it to the point of being operable. Our hopes were dashed when the surgeons found that the cancer had already metastasized, as pancreatic cancer often does. It is an evil, spiteful bastard of a cancer, and if I could reach into my father's body and tear it out by the roots and stomp on it, I would.

But...subsequent chemotherapy has been moderately successful; it has significantly slowed the advance of the disease (the main tumor is actually smaller). My father is in good health, considering that he's 80 years old and undergoing chemotherapy, and he's still doing yardwork and baking biscuits for the dogs. He wants to see Thomas graduate from high school this spring, and I believe he'll make it.

That's why I'm taking this opportunity to talk to you. I know it's not fun to read. But if any of you see this, and want to help, click on the banner up above. One of the most important things you can do is to write your Congressional Representative about HR 745, the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, which will direct and enable the Department of Health and Human Services to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research. And if you have your own causes -- something I thoroughly understand, and endorse! -- and decide to take a pass, no problem. I just wanted to do something for my dad.

Thanks for listening. You really are a great bunch of readers, and I appreciate it.


sam k said...

As you know, Lew, it got my Mom more than a year ago. It really is a tough one to deal with, and every day you can still sit and talk to your Dad is a gift. I appreciate your bringing this to the table.

Oh, and by the way, I agree with your Phillies take, too.

Glenn said...

And just because you have your own causes doesn't mean you can't have another one ;-)

Clicked the link, read up on it a bit, and learned a bunch. Will be writing to the Congress folks tonight after I get off work, but I did throw a few bucks in the pot for this via their link on that page.

And all the rest of you beer geeks reading this need to do the same!!

Lew Bryson said...

Cheers, Sam; I knew you were on this one.

Glenn, thanks!

Anonymous said...

no, thank YOU Lew! cheers, and best wishes to your dad.

Dana in Houston said...

My mom passed away in July less than 3 months after being diagnosed. I too wished I could reach in & yank it out & stomp on it! Especially after her failed surgery. They got in & it had already attached to the vein to the liver.
Thank you for a wonderful story & all the information! I have passed it on. And I found out my rep is a sponsoring the bill! Prayers for you & your family as you continue on this journey.

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks, Dana; my sympathies to you and yours. My dad's tumor was on the vessel too, but we were lucky: he was diagnosed very early. Wish it could have been maybe a month earlier -- might have been able to excise it -- but these are the cards we're dealt, and Sir's playing them cagey as he can.

Keep fighting!

Anonymous said...

Hey Lew:

My sympathies, thoughts and prayers. Have you seen or read "The Last Lecture"? It's an amazing story, and a strong reminder of what's important in this segment of our existence.


paul cyphers

Lew Bryson said...

I have, Paul...before my dad's diagnosis. It became particularly poignant after that.

I am lucky in one thing. Many people told me to be sure to tell my dad I love him, to say all the unsaid things. Well...I had nothing to say. I have a great relationship with him, and we've got nothing unsaid. Never realized how wonderful that was until now.

Anonymous said...

Dont want to step on anyone's toes or anything but there are large inequities in cancer research money, and pancreatic cancer is relatively low. Other less deadly cancers such as Breast cancer have been extremely successful in raising money. Compared to breast, prostate cancer funding is a drop in the bucket despite the fact that almost every guy will get it if he lives long enough.

Please take this into consideration the next time you have the opportunity to donate some of your hard-earned cash.

Anonymous said...

Lost my mother after 89 years young.
What she taught me about life without even knowing was when you learn how to die,you learn how to live.If you know that at any time you can die,you see most things alot differently.Will say a prayer for you and your family..

Bill said...

May he reach his goal of seeing your boy graduate, and then some. Regardless, it sounds like he's lived and is living a life well-lived, which will live on in you and yours and in those who know him. Cheers to his courage, and to your eloquent writing about your family.

Laura said...


I am an outreach coordinator for the health videos website.

I wanted to add to the discussion by offering up some videos for those of you looking for more information on Pancreatic Cancer. We have a topic page about Pancreatic Cancer with videos featuring health professionals, organizations and patients discussing the cancer and those affected by it.

Check out these videos for answers to your questions, and check back daily for updates and new information!


Bob Paolino said...


Naturally, I typically read what you have to say about beer, but I saw the link to what you wrote about your Dad, and between this and your recent post about your son, it had me close to tears. I'm glad your Dad is doing as well as he is considering the cancer, but yes, what I hear about pancreatic cancer is that it's especially nasty.

My Dad died recently at a young age from cancer. There were times it seemed that he was going to beat it, but then things went downhill and that last week with him in inpatient hospice was tough... although there really aren't any good words to describe the feeling properly.

When I got back home after spending a little more time with my Mom and my brother (not nearly enough time, but at some point you gotta go back to work) and taking care of the various arrangements, my first week back at the adult hockey group I run, they wondered why I'd been gone--after all, it was not like me to miss hockey two weeks in a row--I told them about Dad, and they offered condolences. After the game, several stuck around for a beer afterward (craft beer, of course... this is a hockey group with good taste), as we sometimes do after hockey. Not even a dozen people in the room, but about half of them had lost a parent to cancer--one whose Mom died of ovarian cancer only in her 50s, another of prostate cancer, some other kind of cancer for one, and two of pancreatic cancer. (And one of our goalies himself with a brain tumour for which he's twice had surgery and the cancer spreading, otherwise "okay" and active for now, but who knows....)

Some will dismiss this as just that people are living longer and are dying of cancer because something else didn't get them first, but I think there's more going on than that, that we're putting so much crap into our environment and our food supply and cancer is one of the consequences. We hear a lot about screening for earlier detection, and drugs for treatment, but don't have the political will to do anything serious about prevention of environmental causes and what we allow in our factory food system.

Lew Bryson said...

Condolences on your loss. I am very, very lucky: I just talked to my dad on the phone. Not only is he eating well, he was just out shoveling snow...16 months post-diagnosis. He's responded strongly to chemotherapy, but as his doctor keeps saying: it's not a cure. The only cure is going to come from a miracle, at this point, and I feel selfish praying for one when he's done so well...a miracle in its own right.
But long-term? Yeah. We need work on causes as well as cures. I keep reading about all the human hormones found in the water supply, and antibiotics in feed (which I just read may be more tightly controlled: not a bit too soon), and the myriad chemicals in the environment, and... Well, yeah. Plenty to do.