Sisters lead local fight against pancreatic cancer

After siblings lost to disease, sisters stand up to make a difference

by Ciera Choate

The inaugural PurpleLights event in Charlotte helped raise funds for and awareness of pancreatic cancer research. Another event is planned for later this year, followed by the inaugural PurpleStride 5K. Find more information at www.pancan.org. Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Healthcare

After losing two siblings to pancreatic cancer, sisters Effie Baily and Nellie Townsend have dedicated themselves to increasing awareness of pancreatic cancer and all the services and resources available to those diagnosed.

“As a family we are looking for something before our children and our children’s children start facing this,” Townsend said.

The two have teamed up with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PANCAN, and the group’s newly created Charlotte chapter, to work more effectively in the community.

The local PANCAN group first met May 2011, and shortly after Baily and another member of the organization teamed up to take over the education and outreach position.

After losing their siblings to pancreatic cancer, Baily and Townsend looked back on their family tree and noticed a history of the cancer for generations, leading them to get screened.Townsend was diagnosed with stage 1 pancreatic cancer, but after one surgery and many rounds of chemotherapy she is now a three-year cancer survivor.

“The chemo was rough, and the surgery was rough,” Townsend said. “My brother went through a whole lot more and didn’t make it, so it was easier than his treatment.”

Catching pancreatic cancer in the early stages is rare in most cases because there are no standard screening procedures for those who are not at high risk of getting the disease.

The survival rate of pancreatic cancer is 6 percent, though PANCAN is working to double that number by 2020 to 12 percent.

“The biology of the cancer is bad.  It’s an aggressive tumor, and it’s in a bad location because there aren’t a lot of screening tests like a mammogram with breast cancer,” Dr. Wyatt Fowler, a surgical oncologist for Presbyterian Healthcare, said.  “Without surgery the chances of the cancer being survived are small, but sometimes the problem is that it has already spread.”

PANCAN members know their goals will be hard to accomplish without early screening for more people.  So they are working to present a bill to the U.S. Congress that would ask the National Institute of Health to develop a plan to fight against pancreatic cancer.

“Congress has stepped up before and said, ‘We need to do something about this disease,’ and that’s what we want,” Baily said.

The Charlotte chapter of PANCAN hosts many events in the region to reach as many people as possible and on Nov. 18 will host its second annual PurpleLights events at Freedom Park, 1900 East Blvd.

“It was a wonderful turnout,” Baily said of last year’s event. “Most everyone was there because they were affected by pancreatic cancer.”

In addition to the PurpleLights event, PANCAN will host its inaugural PurpleStride 5K on Sept. 22, at Marshall Park, 800 E. 3rd St., to help raise money for pancreatic cancer research.  This 5K will be one of 50 PurpleStride events held across the country.

The Charlotte chapter’s next meeting is Aug. 5 at the Buddy Kemp Center.  Find more information on the chapter at its website, www.pancan.org/section_get_involved/volunteer/affiliate_details.php?id=67. q

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