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

Betty Cole

Elizabeth Cole

It all started for me in 2013. Three hospital admissions for pancreatitis. Followed by five months of doctor’s visits. It wasn’t until October 28th that I heard the diagnosis: pancreatic cancer. But I am one of the lucky ones. On November 22, 2013, I had an extended Whipple surgery.

While recovering, I searched for more information about pancreatic cancer and options after surgery. I quickly learned that there was a need for more researchers studying pancreatic cancer. I also found out about PanCAN, Advocacy Day and PurpleStride Phoenix.

After my chemotherapy and radiation treatment, I signed up for my first Advocacy Day and my first PurpleStride Phoenix. My experience in Washington, D.C., was amazing and emotional. I also participated in PanCAN’s patient registry and later had my tumor profiled. I had promised myself I would get involved and I did.

Betty ColePurpleStride Phoenix is an event I look forward to every year. I walk to celebrate my survival, to honor the friends I have made and those who lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer. The Phoenix PurpleStride community is very welcoming.

Fundraising is not always easy, but it is a way for me to contribute and honor those who were not so fortunate. I hope it shows those who’ve lost love ones that I care about their loss. Especially the grandchildren who lost a grandparent or a child losing a parent. I want others to be able to say I “had” pancreatic cancer—that it’s now a thing of the past.

Thanks to family and great friends, I have raised over $35,000 participating in four events.

I was not given a lot of hope when I was diagnosed, but it has now been seven years since my surgery. Thankfully, I have had no recurrence.

I have been able to see my grandson graduate from high school, watch twin grandchildren become teenagers and take the trip of a lifetime to Africa. I have been given a chance to live my life and I try to remember that every day.

Chuck Paulausky

Chuck Paulausky

I was diagnosed with Stage 1B pancreatic cancer in mid-December, 2019. I was very lucky to catch it early, thanks to Alex Trebek. In late November, I happened to turn on Jeopardy! — the host was talking about his battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and listed the early warning signs.

I looked at the list and thought that two to three of them might match some issues I was having. I went to my doctor — he took my concerns seriously and ordered an ultrasound.

That started the ball rolling. Numerous tests and scans later and it was official. I got connected to a group of excellent physicians in Phoenix. I started chemotherapy on January 7 and have been making progress.

Chuck Paulausky Every step of my experience with the disease has been strengthened by my support network of family and friends. I learned about PanCAN’s free services for patients and caregivers, as well as its PurpleStride walks, through my daughter, Selena.

Selena took the initiative and created a team, Chucking Out Cancer, for PurpleStride Phoenix 2020. She even made celebratory cookies for me to share with my healthcare team when I finished chemotherapy and radiation treatments. My friends, family and business contacts all rallied around me and raised funds for the team. This strong support is what kickstarted my positive attitude, which continues today!

For my first PurpleStride, I walked in my neighborhood and along nearby canals, keeping good social distance from others. I’m looking forward to walking in my neighborhood again for Virtual PurpleStride Phoenix 2021!

Santina Strider

Mike Santina

It all started with an itch. I had my typical winter cold and the itch started just as I was coming off a round of antibiotics. Urgent care assumed the itching was a sudden penicillin allergy and gave me a high-grade steroid.

This worked, but two months later, it came back stronger than ever. It felt like I had rolled in fiberglass; I was itchy from head to toe. It was an itch like I had never had before — between my fingers, my eyes, all over my body and even my ears. Nothing helped ease the pain. I struggled with this for about three weeks and it grew to the point where I was not able to sleep. I was literally breaking down from exhaustion.

Before this, I had always been healthy. I was very active; I didn’t smoke, and only drank occasionally. Because I had always been in good health, I didn’t have a family doctor. I found a doctor closest to my office and begged for an appointment. Luckily I was able to get an appointment that day. As he did his exam, everything seemed normal. I had no physical signs, no jaundice — only some changes as far as digestion goes, and maybe that’s what triggered something in his mind. He ordered labs for me, then an ultrasound. Shortly after, he order a CT scan.

The results came in later that afternoon. He called me and said he would reopen his office, as he wanted to speak with my wife and me about the findings. He said he found a tumor and suggested I meet with a surgeon with whom he had already scheduled an appointment.

My wife and I met with the surgeon on a Wednesday and I was scheduled for surgery that Friday. It was a very quick process and at this point, we just knew it was a tumor — no one had mentioned cancer. In hindsight, I think this was to keep our stress levels down.

After 10 hours of surgery (a Whipple procedure) and 8 days in the hospital, they finally announced the finding. At the age of 34, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As it turns out, the tumor on my pancreas was pushing into my gallbladder, which caused it to produce too much bile for my body to process, leading to the itching.

I spent the next 12 weeks recovering, scheduling appointments with oncologists and establishing a game plan for chemotherapy and radiation treatments to battle the disease.

If I can give any advice, it’s to go in fighting and no matter what, stay positive. I truly believe a positive attitude can be a game changer. Get the facts and fight for yourself. You deserve the best, so get the best doctors, take the best treatments available and find the right support groups. It’s your life so take control and don’t take “no” for an answer.

PanCAN is a great place to start. When I was going through treatment, they assigned me my own Patient Services caseworker and provided literature that helped my family and me get through it all. When I meet anyone who is fighting pancreatic cancer, I tell them PanCAN is first place to go.

Participating in PanCAN’s PurpleStride, creating awareness and asking for donations to support this cause is the best way I know how to give back. Our first team in 2012 consisted of six people who raised just over $2,500. In 2020, our team has grown to almost 50 people and we’ve raised over $23,000, bringing our 8-year total to $103,000! The money raised helps fund research as well as provide patient support.

I would like to thank my wife Kelly and my family and friends for giving me the full support I needed. I am truly blessed to have all of you in my corner. I could not have done it without you. On May 20, 2021, I will be 10 years cancer free!

Strider Stories

Captain Kirk

Captain Kirk's Crew

I remember how stunned I was when the doctor called. My husband, Jim, had gone to see him for the second time about his stomachache. It was 6:30 in the evening and he said, “I have a room reserved for you at Del Webb Hospital. Check in right away.” I thought, “This, for a stomachache?”

At the hospital, we met another doctor — he placed a stint in Jim’s bile duct. He said that was what was causing Jim to be jaundiced (which I confess I hadn’t even noticed). When he reported back, he said that the blockage was not in the bile duct but pressing on it. His prediction: pancreatic cancer. If we had been stunned before, we were paralyzed then. He referred us to “the best surgeon in Phoenix”, telling Jim, “If you were my father, this is who I would send to you. But don’t wait. Go right away.” We were there within days.

Jim’s cancer never showed up on a scan, but it was there. The team prepped him for the Whipple procedure — the surgery took six hours rather than the predicted three. The surgeon thought he got it all. Jim lost a lot of blood due to the jaundice, and three of the nine lymph nodes showed cancer. He started on chemotherapy right away. His oncologist said he was not a good candidate for radiation due to the mobility of the cancer’s location.

Five months later, we were told that there was no detectable cancer! We celebrated with a cruise and enjoyed the relief that comes with such good news. However, five months later, the cancer had returned. Jim tolerated a “cancer cocktail” that this time took his hair. When it came to a third round, he declined. The treatment was just so debilitating. After a month in hospice, he passed, with our daughter and me at his side, two weeks after his 63rd birthday.

I wish I had known about PanCAN at the time. When the hospice nurse told me about this wonderful support network, I knew I had to join. I have a daughter to save from this terrible pain. And now we have a grandson, too, who only knows his grandpa through the stories he hears. But he was at PurpleStride before he could walk!

PanCAN is my chosen charity. I give all I can, and I donate to my friends’ fundraising efforts, too. Over the ten years since Jim’s passing, my teammates have varied, but his circle of friends has been loyal. I ask early and often for donations. I have gone to Washington, D.C., three times to advocate for increased research funds. I post on Facebook and I’m pleased that new names pop up every year to support me. It’s surprising how many people have connections to this disease.

I am grateful for the forty years Jim and I had together and the beautiful family he left behind. I am also grateful for my PanCAN family — they are all so supportive and understanding. Jim would have loved these people, and they would have loved him back.

I encourage you to join the effort. We need to be the voices for the victims as we continue to build our family of survivors.

Linda's Team

Linda's Team

I first got involved to support my mother, Linda. She was in the late stages of her battle with pancreatic cancer. I started Linda’s Team for the February 2012 Phoenix PurpleStride. Unfortunately, my mom did not survive to see her team stride for the first time.

That first event was emotional and healing for us. My mom had passed away just weeks prior to the event and so our grief was very fresh and our family was still reeling from the loss. However, it was at that event that we realized we were not alone and that there was a rich community of support among those walking a similar, difficult path.

Nine years later, Linda’s Team is still going strong and has become an annual family reunion and event that friends and family look forward to. We have a tradition of hosting a party at our house after the event. It’s an opportunity to thank our striders and donors for their generosity and to spend some cherished time together in celebration of a woman who loved nothing more than a great gathering among friends and family.

Several Linda’s Team members have participated at event day and as Phoenix Affiliate volunteers, in addition to general PurpleStride support. This year my wife Karen and I are serving as the PurpleStride Phoenix 2021 co-chairs. It is a humbling honor, if not a somewhat intimidating task to undertake in this challenging time for in-person fundraising activities. But we remain committed to our goals of raising awareness and hope for patients and caregivers.

We continue to stride and raise awareness because this disease takes too many of our loved ones too soon. Raising awareness makes a difference. One of our dear friends was fortunate enough to get diagnosed early as a result.

PanCAN offers caregivers a support network. PanCAN invests in novel research. All of this has led to an increase in the five-year survival rate — it’s now 10%.

Our work honors my mom’s memory. That is why I stride.

Michael Schreurs

Team UFC

I attended a PurpleLight shortly after my dad was diagnosed. Once we found out about PurpleStride, we knew we had to do it.

Dad was the runner though. He had completed tons of 5K’s, 10k’s, and half marathons, and he had just hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, 27 miles — a couple of months before his diagnosis. I hated running so we decided to run it together.

Unfortunately, as the race drew closer, my dad got sicker. We knew he wouldn’t be able to run. The good thing was that now more of my family wanted to join. Suddenly, we were a team — we just had to think of a name. Since we were all fighting alongside dad, we wanted the name to be about fighting. So, we became Team UFC.

We were gaining momentum as a team and decided to invite more people to join us. Our first year we ended up with 143 people on Team UFC.

Dad and I agreed to make the team grow bigger every year. And that’s just what we’re doing. We’re all doing it for my dad.

Lisa Marie

Team Lisa Marie

My journey with pancreatic cancer began in January 2018. My wife Lisa and I just were getting ready to start the next phase of our lives. I had just retired the year before after 28 years of service to the federal government and Lisa was going to retire, too.

Our plan was to move to Tucson, Arizona. We wanted to do something completely different that we both enjoyed, possibly even starting our own business. We never got that chance.

As 2017 was coming to a close, Lisa started feeling very poorly — she couldn’t even eat on Christmas Eve. By the last few days of 2017, Lisa had turned completely yellow due to jaundice. On New Year’s Day, she finally agreed to let me take her to the emergency room.

Lisa MArie That was the day we received the worst news that any married couple could hear. We were told she had a pancreatic mass and that “we should get our affairs in order”. Lisa was only 53.

Further testing revealed she had Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. Lisa immediately started an aggressive standard of care option, FOLFIRINOX. Her initial prognosis was 11 months. Lisa was on FOLFIRINOX for about a year before she participated in two clinical trials.

Over the next year, Lisa was able to attend her son’s wedding and we took trips that covered 30,000 miles by car and 5,000 miles by air. Three of our destinations included Grand Canyon, Mexico, and PanCAN’s 2019 Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

Advocacy Day in D.C. was our first involvement with PANCAN. It was such a great experience meeting other attendees, especially the ones from our home state of Arizona. Lisa felt so good being able to go to Capitol Hill and tell her story to members of Congress, advocating for everyone afflicted with this terrible cancer.

Later that year, after fighting for 23 months, Lisa passed on November 16, 2019. Shortly after that we learned that our advocacy efforts had made an impact. For the first time ever, Congress approved dedicated funding for a pancreatic cancer research program. A huge success for everyone involved.

After Lisa passed, I managed to make it through the first set of holidays without her. I just felt so empty and lost. In early 2020, I heard about the 2020 PurpleStride event coming up in Phoenix — it was just the focus I needed. I had never been a part of or had organized any fundraising events. But the information and web links PanCAN provided were very helpful in helping me get started.

Preparing for PurpleStride really helped me emotionally - it literally got me through the first part of the year. I felt like I was continuing the fight Lisa had started. And although it was my first time organizing anything like this, Team Lisa Marie ended up being one of the top fundraisers for PurpleStride Phoenix 2020. It was such a great way to honor her memory! I just brought the team back for our second event in 2021 and am looking to build on the success from last year!

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