Pancreatic Cancer Deaths Surpass Breast Cancer; It’s Time to Wage Hope

By Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA

In early January, we learned that pancreatic cancer will take more lives than breast cancer this year.

The pancreatic cancer community expected this shift, but the news doesn’t come easy. Especially when the five-year survival rate is still in the single digits at only 8 percent.

Thanks to years of research and advocacy in the breast cancer community, patients have better treatments, earlier detection and screening tools and deaths from the disease are declining.

I’m proud of our country for rallying behind breast cancer. But I must admit, I have pink envy. I want people to see purple.

Purple is the global symbol for pancreatic cancer. A color that has become a battle cry for patients and families fighting one of the deadliest cancers.

In fact, by 2020 pancreatic cancer is expected to surpass colon cancer to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

It’s a frightening statistic.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me.

Julie and Jim Fleshman in 1997, University of California, Santa Barbara graduation

Julie and Jim Fleshman in 1997, University of California, Santa Barbara graduation

My dad, Jim Fleshman, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1999. He was told he was going to die. Armed only with grief, my family got his affairs in order, and four short months later, I lost one of the most important people in my life. Dad was only 52 years old.

Since his death, strides have been made.

There is a growing pancreatic cancer scientific community, increasing pancreatic cancer clinical trials that could lead to new treatment options and information and resources for patients and families fighting this disease.

And I’ve witnessed the incredible generosity of people from around the country taking action, raising their voices, and giving their time and money. Even our government is leading the way with a renewed sense of urgency to tackle cancer with its moonshot approach.

But more must be done. We must double survival for pancreatic cancer by 2020.

Breast cancer advocates have paved the road for us and shown us what is possible. Because of them, I know our goals are not impossible.

It’s time for people to see purple, to get involved, to give generously and help rewrite the future of pancreatic cancer.

And I can only hope that someday people have purple envy.

In loving memory of my dad and the countless dads, moms, sisters, brothers, children and other loved ones lost to this disease or who are fighting it today, I Wage Hope.

Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, is the president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, a national nonprofit organization advancing research, supporting patients and creating hope for anyone facing pancreatic cancer. This blog originally appeared here.

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