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Awareness Key to Cure for Deadly Pancreatic Cancer

Wendy Stoneberg and John Bradley met seven years ago, and it changed her life. "I got involved (advocating for pancreatic cancer patients, survivors and their families) simply because of someone I met and fell in love with him."
By Sandra Wurdemann, News and Community
November 26, 2014

Idahoans facing pancreatic cancer and their families lost an inspirational advocate this April (2014) when John Bradley, founder of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – Boise Affiliate, was overtaken by the disease.

John, a St. Luke’s patient, was first diagnosed in late November 2005, says Wendy Stoneberg, John’s partner. After surgery, weeks of radiation and months of chemotherapy, he was considered a survivor. In 2009 he began to look at bringing a pancreatic cancer awareness group to Boise. A small ad in the newspaper drew 20 people including three survivors, and by 2010, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – Boise Affiliate was established to advocate, promote awareness and give comfort, Wendy said.

“He really worked hard to make a difference,” Wendy said. “For him to be able to talk to other survivors was really important because it gave him hope.”

In September 2014, about 825 people joined PurpleStride Boise, a family-friendly 5k walk at Ann Morrison Park that raised more than $58,000 for research, education and advocacy. Unfortunately, John’s cancer returned without notice a number of months before the event, quickly spreading throughout his body and brain.

Though the group is still grappling with John’s death, Wendy and other members are continuing the work of the Network. On Tuesday, Nov. 25, to mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and World Pancreatic Cancer Day, supporters met on the Idaho Capitol Building steps, fashioning a giant purple ribbon from hundreds of luminaries, and photos of survivors and those who have passed.

Only 6 percent of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive five years, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. And 73 percent of those diagnosed this year will die, most in the first three to six months. This is one of the few cancers for which the survival rate has not improved substantially during the past 40 years.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and is anticipated to become the second leading cause of cancer death behind lung cancer by 2020. However, it is the least funded cancer, and only one new drug has been approved for treatment in the past 10 years.

There are no early detection methods. Symptoms may include jaundice, a yellowing of the skin, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, and new onset diabetes in association with all of the above, said Dr. Joshua Barton, a surgeon with St. Luke’s Clinic – Center for Pancreatic and Liver Diseases.

It’s not clear what causes pancreatic cancer, but 30 percent of cases in the United States can be linked to smoking and another 10 percent are said to have a hereditary link, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Fewer people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer than other cancers, and most of them die, so there are fewer survivors to help advocate for more research funding and put pressure on the government to catch up pancreatic cancer with breast and lung cancer, Dr. Barton said.

For people in the region diagnosed with diseases of the pancreas including cancer, St. Luke’s Clinic – Center for Pancreatic and Liver Diseases provides physicians with renowned expertise and the most modern diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. The Clinic’s approach of integrating providers from a range of specialties in to a treatment team has led to better outcomes with many of the diseases.

However, awareness and open discussion in the community are necessary, Dr. Barton said.

“With everybody adding a little bit, talking to friends and family, talking with their doctor, there’s no reason why Idaho can’t lead the nation in pancreatic cancer awareness,” Barton said.

 About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is the only national organization creating hope in a comprehensive way through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure. Affiliates, like the one in Boise, are run by volunteers so that as much of the money raised can go to finding cures for and causes of this disease. Find local events and information at by clicking here.

About St. Luke’s Clinic – Center for Pancreatic and Liver Diseases

St. Luke’s Clinic – Center for Pancreatic and Liver Diseases applies the most modern diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for pancreatic, liver and complex gastro-intestinal diseases without delay through an integrated, multispecialty approach. Patients across the region are referred to the Clinic because of the expertise and treatment available.

About The Author

Sandra Wurdemann works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.