PurpleStride – The Walk to End Pancreatic Cancer!

Jennifer Gnerlich, M.D. (Department of Surgery) 

While pink may be the rage in October, we find ourselves turning to purple in November to support pancreatic cancer awareness. While not a common cancer, the number of people affected is increasing every year with an expected 55,000 to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. 

The hardest part about pancreatic cancer? There is no screening test, blood work, or X-ray to detect this cancer at an early stage. So, people are left to try and figure out the warning signs on their own, usually after the cancer is at advanced stages. In fact, over 50% of patients will present with Stage IV (terminal) disease. 

I was recently asked how we can make rare cancers more well known to aid in patient support and funding for research. Awareness is the key, but not always a simple solution. A celebrity being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer brings it to the spotlight for a brief time: Patrick Swayze, Alan Rickman, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few. To really have an impact, we need something more lasting, and that is where the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) comes into play.  

Their main event is PurpleStride – the walk to end pancreatic cancer and wage hope. While it happens around the nation at different times of the year, their mission is the same: raising money for research, counseling services for patients, and advocating on a federal level, which happens every June in Washington DC. The NCI funding for other major cancers is anywhere from 3 to 6 fold more than for pancreatic cancer, but the 5-year survival rate is 8.5% for pancreatic cancer compared with 90% for breast cancer. These huge differences mean that funding support needs to make a major shift.  

My passion for my patients extends outside of the operating room, and that was why it was important for LSU to become the first Flagship Team in Louisiana and the first of four Flagship Teams in the nation. By becoming a Flagship Team, we announce to the Louisiana area and nation that we are dedicated to finding help for his disease and becoming a destination center. With almost 100 team members to run, walk and fundraise, we ended up raising over $6500 for PurpleStride and helping PanCAN reach their goal of achieving over $100,000 in funds. A superb achievement for LSU and PanCAN!  

There were so many great things about the PurpleStride event held on Sunday, November 4, 2018. LSU received an award for the #3 team in fundraising, which means that we are not only standing out for the excellent cancer care that we provide for our patients, but also by our community involvement and spirit.  My patient, Mr. Joseph Durr, and his wife came out to walk after 45 days in the hospital following a very difficult pancreatic surgery. It makes me proud that my patient is back up on his feet and ready to tell the world his story in order to bring about the necessary change.  

As you can imagine by the above numbers, survivors are the minority here and a lot of family members walk in remembrance of a loved one. My hope is that this will slowly change in the future. With fire in our belly and purple in our hearts, I truly believe that we can find new ways to treat this disease. While PurpleStride and the LSU team “Purple Reign” is over this year, plan to come out next year for the event!