Almost three years ago I received a phone call that brought me to my knees and changed my life as I knew it forever more. My dad was on the other end of the line. The man I grew up idolizing growing our green thumbs together in his garden and singing songs side-by-side in the tractor; my biggest fan.
His voice said, “The tumor they found on my pancreas is cancerous. I have been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.”
A million pounds of bricks was dropped on my chest then, but one by one over the course of the past 2 and 3/4 years they have been gently lifted off of me, because we wage hope. Today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day, and I’m not excited to be an advocate for this cause. I’m simply not thrilled about it, because I wish I didn’t have to be one. I will advocate for agriculture every day until I’m blue in the face. Hunger has even joined an effort that has become important to me. But cancer? Cancer, even though it does not occupy my body, occupies my heart. Daily. And I wish it didn’t. But we try not to let it eat our spirits alive.
This is a tough post to write, because I can only share what pancreatic cancer means to me. My Dad’s story is not mine to tell. My mom and I and our family and friends have no true idea of what my Dad goes through every day as a living body of hope. But as far as I know, he is one of the luckiest, and we never take that for granted. When I learned about today, I visited the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website to see how I could help.
There was a section of the website that felt like a punch to my gut. “QUICK FACTS about pancreatic cancer,” I read. I wanted to cry right then, because nothing about this battle has been ‘quick,’ and my communication mind told the website there certainly was no reason to shout this at me.
1. Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, and is anticipated to become the second by 2020.
2. Only 6 percent of Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive more than five years.
3. An estimated 73 percent of Americans will die within the first year of diagnosis.
But that means about 27 percent will live.
Quickly, I went from having my feelings hurt to putting my pen to paper. After some simple math I realized that these three “quick facts” about pancreatic cancer told me that my Dad is among the top 27% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He’s actually closer to the 6%; with two more years of hope.
The thing about pancreatic cancer is that when it hits, it hits hard and is most often only diagnosable once it reaches its fourth stage- the most severe. This is why most people diagnosed don’t make it past their first year battling this horrific disease. But my Dad is a miracle. My Dad is a fighter. My Dad is why we wage hope. We know that others didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate another birthday past diagnosis, and those hearts weigh heavy on ours all the time.
Unfortunately, most people are touched in some way by cancer. When my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, we were thrown into a completely different community. A community that only lifts up and never puts down. As the daughter of a father living with cancer, I stand behind my Dad 110%. I know how his body is fighting pancreatic cancer is not normal. I also know that cancer just plain sucks.
Through his battle, my Dad has always remained positive. Even after his chemo treatments he continued to wage hope and remained good-spirited. He will celebrate his third birthday since he was diagnosed next week, a birthday we won’t take for granted.
Though cancer is ultimately a very confusing, exhausting, and absolutely demanding noun, we can all help put this ugly word to bed. For good. Today, I hope you will join me and wear #PurpleForAPurpose and #WageHope and just wander around the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. Even if you just learn something new, it will help you gain a new perspective.
November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, but cancer lives on 365, 24/7. As I’ve always said, with anything the first step begins with awareness. What follows can only be revealed by your willingness to become aware and then act. Your actions are most important.
My parents and I thank those of you who have helped us waged hope against pancreatic cancer from the bottom of our hearts, and to those of you suffering from the wrath of pancreatic cancer, or any other kind of cancer, in your own bodies and families, our love goes out to you.
Mal the Beef Gal