SURVIVOR & STRIDER STORIES

Many of us have been affected by pancreatic cancer, and it’s up to all of us to make a difference for people fighting the disease today and those diagnosed in the future. Your PurpleStride participation matters now more than ever. Keep reading for more inspiring reasons why.

Survivor Stories

Nick Pifani

Nick Pifani

As a lifelong distance runner, I found PurpleStride after I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2017. Initially, I was looking to run the 5K as a cancer survivor.

My family and friends rallied around me as I started a team for PurpleStride. I named the team "Challenge Accepted," because I accepted my diagnosis and was determined to fight and win. Joining PurpleStride also helped me learn about PanCAN and all the services they offer patients and caregivers battling this difficult disease.

It also allowed me to meet other survivors and volunteers in Philadelphia – a new purple family that we love. And lastly, it created a platform for me to get involved and advocate for myself and others.

I remember blogging during my first chemotherapy session about my battle … sharing my experience and how I was feeling.

The Philadelphia Affiliate of PanCAN volunteers discovered my blog and had a care package waiting for me during my first chemo session.

The days after my first treatment were a blur, but when I started to recover I noticed thousands of dollars were donated to my team. I understand that everyone's health and battle is different. But I believe sharing my story with my community, family, friends and coworkers opened up a level of support that was simply overwhelming.

Family and friends all over the country were following my blog, waiting for updates, leaving encouraging comments and helping anyway that they could. Sharing my story and experience has created real fundraising power for PurpleStride.

No one can tell your story like you, and I encourage others to share your stories to rally support.

PurpleStride is one of my all-time favorite events because we celebrate survivors and remember the loved ones that we have lost. It is a day full of emotions, and I always leave feeling motivated.

My favorite moment at PurpleStride was in 2017, just two weeks after my Whipple procedure, as the event's survivor speaker. I began the year as a stage III inoperable patient and ended the year cancer free.

In a world filled with many differences, an event like PurpleStride breaks down the differences and creates a strong bond for a cause.

In addition to being a three-year survivor, I have lost two cousins and an uncle to this disease. I stride for my wife (Jen), kids (Nick and Samantha), family and those who we have lost to pancreatic cancer.

I stride because a 10% survival rate is not good enough. And I stride for the family and friends we've lost, so their voices will always be heard.

G Paris Johnson

G. Paris Johnson

When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, I was immediately taken out of work and told I would likely never go back, and likely wouldn't live. But I refused to accept that.

At age 44, I had too much life left to live and too much left to offer.

At the time, I had no idea PanCAN existed, nor did I know there was a PurpleStride happening in my own community. I found out about it more than ten years later.

I was like, 'What walk? What stride?' The moment I learned about the event, I registered to participate and also raised my hand to volunteer. I was so excited to get involved.

Because of my finance background, the Philadelphia Affiliate asked me to take on the fiscal aspects for PurpleStride. It was a perfect fit for me.

Then in August 2019 my affiliate invited me to serve as the Outreach Chair, expanding PanCAN's presence in our community.

In this role, I get an opportunity to tell people how underfunded and horrible this disease is. But, more importantly, I get to serve as an example that pancreatic cancer isn't a death sentence and encourage patients and their loved ones to never give up.

At a recent gathering with my affiliate members, we were talking and getting to know one another better and it hit me. I realized then that I now have another family of supporters. It was a powerful moment recognizing the many connections volunteering has brought me.

I wish I had known about PanCAN and resources like Patient Services when I was a patient. But I'm grateful to be involved now.

Volunteering has helped me to no longer be silent. It took me over 10 years to really sit up and do something about this.

It's a blessing. Not only because of me surviving this disease, but because of the lives I now get to impact.

June Vietry

June Vietry

Up until March 2016, I was healthy in general. Even that month when I was diagnosed with locally advanced stage III pancreatic adenocarcinoma, I felt great. Nonetheless, the diagnosis came as a complete shock.

As with many cases, I was not initially a candidate for the Whipple procedure. I underwent four months of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of daily radiation and chemo, both of which helped reduce my tumor to the point where my surgeon was willing to attempt the Whipple procedure.

Due to the complex location of my tumor, the only way to definitively know if a Whipple was possible was to try. On October 31, 2016, I underwent a successful eight-plus hour Whipple procedure, and a week later, I was given the great news that all margins were clear and all lymph nodes were negative for cancer! I started adjunct chemotherapy in January 2017 and have managed to find the good in each day.

Unfortunately, soon after I was considered "no evidence of disease," the cancer returned at my surgical site and I was now considered stage IV. Since starting chemo again in mid-2017, I have been treating consecutively with only two short chemo breaks.

In early 2019, we learned that the chemo was no longer working. I underwent more testing and procedures, and it was confirmed that the cancer had spread to my lungs and pleural lining. Along the journey, I also learned that I have numerous bone metastasis.

After a failed attempt at using a different chemo, I started a clinical trial in June 2019. The trial has me at the hospital twice per week for infusions, with markers and scans frequently to track progress. So far, the trial has kept my disease stable for nine months, and I anticipate staying this way for many more years.

My first PurpleStride walk was in May 2017 in Rhode Island. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I attended by myself to see what it was like. I was overwhelmed to see how many people were there, smiling, supporting, cheering on survivors, and remembering those we lost.

It was a sea of purple, a color I have learned to love.

June VietryI have participated in five PurpleStride walks to date – three in Rhode Island, one in Boston, and one in Austin, Texas. My first walk was by myself, and my last walk was with a team of 33, comprised of family, friends, friends of family, friends of friends and coworkers.

Each year, our team continues to grow.

As Team Captain of Team #Junestrong and a pancreatic cancer survivor, it is heartwarming to look at my team and know how many people are willing to give their time and raise money for PanCAN. Each event gives me much-needed rejuvenation and fills my emotional tank, giving me strength to continue to fight.

Many people don't realize the lack of funds and support for pancreatic cancer compared with other cancers and how PurpleStride is an essential part of fundraising.

PanCAN's PurpleStride allows patients and families to have access to endless support through Patient Central with up-to-date information on treatment options, clinical trial info and countless resources about targeted treatment and steps to take to have the best chance of beating the odds.

PurpleStride also allows money to be raised for much-needed research to better understand this disease and how to attack it.

When my journey began in 2016, my children sprang into action and through PanCAN and their resources, have been able to help me manage the crazy web that is pancreatic cancer.

In the four years that I have been battling, we have seen so many improvements in treatment, options for clinical trials, and fundraising. Four years ago, individualized treatment and Know Your Tumor didn't exist. We had to push and figure out many things on our own that are now standard.

Without these improvements, it's unlikely I would be here today to share my story.

My advice to all other warriors is to stay educated, stay positive and never give up. Surround yourself with people who make you better, help you find the best treatment options whether standard or natural, and encourage you to live in the moment and enjoy every day!

Steven Merlin

Steven Merlin

June 2012 marked a lifechanging event for me. After a short period of not feeling well, I went to see my primary care physician and within eight days, a diagnosis was made. I had a rare Pancreatic Acinar Cell Carcinoma (PACC). This exocrine adenocarcinoma is characterized as a highly aggressive tumor known for metastasis and having a poor prognosis.

With the bad news came some good news: It was believed the tumor was stage II and a Whipple procedure could be attempted. As preparations were underway to begin the Whipple, it was discovered that a projection from the tumor was touching the portal vein with likely vascular wall invasion.

A resection of the vein was done and after a recuperation period, chemotherapy with Gemcitabine commenced. Within five months of having the Whipple and just three months on Gemcitabine, a CT scan revealed metastatic disease in the liver. Folfirinox and genetic testing led to a clinical trial with a successful outcome.

Throughout my life, I've had a penchant for helping others. Determined not to let pancreatic cancer negatively impact this, I began to look for ways to turn a negative experience into a positive one and help others who suddenly found themselves in a similar predicament.

I became aware of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) while undergoing second-line chemotherapy. My oncologist informed me of an event dealing with scientific and clinical advances conducted by the New York City Affiliate of PanCAN. Meeting other survivors, caregivers, scientists and PanCAN staff was the catalyst that inspired me to give back by helping others.

Steven MerlinI attended my first Advocacy Day event (now PanCAN Advocacy Summit) in 2017. With other survivors and caregivers, we told our personal stories to members of Congress about how pancreatic cancer had affected our lives.

In 2018, I attended my first PurpleStride in New Jersey. Still having some neuropathy in my feet from chemo, I stayed in the Survivor Tent. I met patients and survivors, sharing my story of how I was able to remain emotionally, mentally and physically strong. Health tips and inspiring stories were shared among the attendees as well.

The next year, 2019, I attended PurpleStride events in both New Jersey and New York City, thanking participants for their selfless acts as caregivers, survivors for mentoring others, and those helping to raise money for patient and caregiver support programs provided free of charge through PanCAN's Patient Central.

When the opportunity of taking on the role of volunteer Outreach Chair for the New Jersey Affiliate was offered, I enthusiastically answered the call. The position was a natural fit.

I had a career in the life sciences and doing biomedical research. I liked explaining scientific concepts in easy-to-understand terms, so this position allowed me to conduct awareness programs for the general public.

When a PanCan volunteer I met at a support group listened to me talk about my diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, that person suggested I contact the PanCAN Survivor & Caregiver Network to serve as a mentor. I have also met newly diagnosed patients, offering support as a mentor and navigator, and put them in touch with PanCAN's Patient Central.

In 2020, I was invited to the World Pancreas Forum held in Bern, Switzerland, and was asked to deliver the Word of Welcome to 300 attendees primarily eminent surgeons as well as oncologists and scientists engaged in battling pancreatic cancer.

April will be the first of two PurpleStride walks; June will find me again at PanCAN Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., and as Outreach Chair, I will be busy partnering with hospitals and healthcare networks to educate the public on the importance of symptoms and early detection.

I find my new mission in life of helping others extremely rewarding and satisfying.

Louise Pisarski

Louise Pisarski

My story began in August 2016, when I had a pain in my chest. I happened to be going to my yearly physical the following week and talked to my doctor about it.

I have always been healthy, exercised and haven't taken any medications. My doctor was wonderful and sent me for an ultrasound the next day. From there I had a CT scan, and then a laparoscopic biopsy.

I had chemo and scheduled my surgery for the Monday after Thanksgiving and stopped working.

Surgeons removed 80% of my pancreas and my gallbladder. In January, I went back to work and continued chemo. I finished up with radiation in May 2017. My CT scans have all been clear since then.

I wanted to find some fellow survivors and found PanCAN online. That's when I discovered PurpleStride and participated in my first walk in June 2017 as a Team Captain.

My team consists of my family and some very close friends. June 2020 will be my fourth year participating in PurpleStride. I was the top team fundraiser for two years, and the top individual fundraiser for the last three years.

I enjoy giving back to PanCAN for all that I have been given. I am very blessed. I have told many of my family, friends and clients about my story, and they have been very generous when I ask for a donation.

Strider Stories

Karen Wall and her mom, Sandy Brown

Karen Wall

Team Captain, Team Sandy

I lost my mom, Sandy Brown, to pancreatic cancer right after she turned 67 years old. Way too young to pass away.

During her illness she told me that she told her doctor that she wanted to see her grandson drive a car and graduate high school. She didn’t live to see either. Every time I think of this it breaks my heart, because she should have been here to see those things as well as many other life events to follow.

I got involved with the Nevada Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to raise awareness and funding to fight this horrible disease. I volunteer and I stride so that other families will share in life events for much longer than we were able to with my mom.

Mary Louise Yuhas of Team Proud Mary

Rae Yuhas

Team Captain, Team Proud Mary

Our PurpleStride team, Proud Mary, is striding in honor and memory of my mom, Mary Louise Yuhas, who was taken by this dreadful cancer five years ago. When diagnosed, we were told three to six months.

She fought her battle for 14 months. She managed to enjoy and complete everything she set out to do while she was still here with us during that time, while still battling with grace and dignity. That was the way she lived her entire 69 years of life…with grace and dignity. That was the way she raised her family…with grace and dignity. That was the way she treated her friends, family and career…with grace and dignity.

Mary Louise Yuhas We think she fought so hard and for so long, far surpassing three to six months, because she knew we weren’t ready to let her go. That's the way she was always thinking of others, especially those she loved, and doing so with grace and dignity.

We hope to honor her memory by walking in PurpleStride Las Vegas by adopting her way of LIFE…with grace and dignity.

Mica Keller with mother, Elaine

Mica Keller

Team Captain, Team Penn E-Laine

Who knew that on that June 2012 day that our lives would change forever. On June 26, my family received the horrific news that my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 adenocarcinoma, also known as pancreatic cancer.

The more we researched this disease, we realized it was absolutely terrible and our faith became tested. The outcome looked bleak as statistics showed that there was a low survival rate and little to no assistance to stabilize the disease. Unfortunately, our fears turned out to be true. My beautiful mother passed four months later.

This disease has turned our lives upside down. We were a close-knit family and my mother was the heart of the family - the warmth and laughter that brought us together through all of life’s trials and tribulations. She lived life to the fullest and was always the first to lend a helping hand and the one everyone wanted to share their life stories with.

Elaine LozanoThe word “no” was never in her vocabulary. Regardless of her hectic schedule, she always found the time to take a walk through the garden, meet you for coffee or something sweet, or share a great laugh with you. She loved to be adventurous and always wanted nothing but the best for her family; she left impressions in everyone’s heart she encountered.

With the passing of my mom, we felt such a loss and became aware of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to help with our sorrow and healing. The PanCAN PurpleLight was our first encounter with this Las Vegas group and when we saw the many other families that were affected by this disease, it was comforting to know that we weren’t alone. The outpouring of people that come together for PurpleStride and Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., continues to give us hope for the future and for an answer and cure.

We vowed to spread the word about this disease so that our voices could be heard with others, and loud enough, so that people will hear and help us with this fight to end it.

We are so grateful for people we have met along the way and the stories that bind us together. PanCAN gives our family the opportunity to share my mom’s spirit and never let her smile fade.

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