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Losing Both Your Parents to Pancreatic Cancer: The Silent Killer

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Roslyn Turner, Vice President, Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Young Professionals Board 

As part of pancreatic cancer awareness in November, I would like to share my personal story on how this insidious illness impacted my family. In 2001 I was like any other 16 year old – just got my license, my family celebrated my sister’s Bat Mitzvah, I was off to overnight camp for the first time… life was great!  After about a week away, I got a phone call that I had to come home right away- but no one would tell me why.  I walked into my house and knew something was wrong and moments later I was told my dad had cancer – he had Pancreatic Cancer.  I didn’t know anyone personally who had cancer. (I didn’t really know where the Pancreas was or what it did!)   I knew that people would get cancer and it was bad but a lot of people lived with it, from it.  They did treatments – it could be ok.  It was mid-summer, and in that moment I was thinking when does he start treatment?  Should we take a family vacation before he does?  But those thoughts ended quickly when I was informed that they found his cancer because he woke up one morning, eyes and skin jaundice because his body was shutting down.  There was no stage, there was no early detection of this – my dad was actively dying and only 3 short weeks after diagnosis, my dad lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer.

Time passed, it got a little easier every day.  I graduated high school and was off to college.  In 2004, winter break of my sophomore year, my mom, sister and I took a family vacation. For two weeks my mom had what we thought was the stomach flu – she couldn’t keep anything down, not even water.  On New Year’s Eve we finally convinced her to go to the hospital and just days into the New Year, after many tests and a surgery, the doctor sat us down and said “You’re mom has Pancreatic Cancer and it has already metastasized to the liver.”  I think I laughed.  Sorry, wrong parent.  But I realized it wasn’t a dream. They always say you learn from experience and in my experience I thought we had days, maybe weeks – what do we do?  How do I do this again?  We prepared for the worst because with Pancreatic Cancer you usually do not detect it until it’s too late.  In November of 2005, just 10 months after her diagnosis, my mother also lost her battle with Pancreatic Cancer.

There I was, 20 years old with a younger sister and Pancreatic Cancer had taken the lives of both my mom and dad.  It was terrible, and devastating, but taught me that this disease is severely unknown, under researched and under funded.  Unfortunately, my experience is similar to so many others and has fueled me to want to make a difference. To this end, I serve on the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer foundation board dedicated to funding early detection research that is critical to improving pancreatic cancer patient outcomes. With increased awareness and research progress, hopefully no other families will have to experience a similar tragedy.

To learn more about pancreatic cancer, please visit our foundation’s website.


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