The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.
— William Shakespeare

I was completely blindsided when I heard those devastating words, “Laurie, I am so sorry. You have pancreatic cancer.”  How could this be?  I went from being perfectly healthy, an exercise enthusiast, diligent about my health check-ups to now, believing I had only months to live.  I enjoy challenges but this was one I had not bargained for!

My path to education and empowerment as a pancreatic cancer patient has been key to my journey.  I was determined early on that this disease was not going to control my fate. When I was in the hospital for the Whipple surgery, I requested that my friends not visit, as I wanted to handle my treatment alone.  A woman I did not know dropped off an envelope in my hospital room, which I opened months later.  This envelope contained information on the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and an upcoming symposium they were conducting.  I am not a group person and had no interest in joining a support group, however, I accepted the invitation with reluctance. In reviewing the agenda, I thought the topics and speakers were impressive, but it still didn’t excite me.  I was hesitant but I knew nothing about the pancreas (I was terrified of doing any research on the internet) and did not know what was ahead of me. I decided to attend anonymously!  I arrived alone as a complete stranger and sat in the last row during the first lecture, planning my escape route if necessary.  To my surprise, I quickly became engaged. The speakers were informative and easy to understand, the mood was upbeat and you got the feeling people were positive and committed, even though they were subject to a devastating disease.  They refused to be defined by their suffering.  After a few interactions with this incredible organization, a whole new world opened up for me.  The people, their mission and desire to make a difference, filled me up in a way I have never experienced.  I felt supported by a close, warm and loving community, inspiring me to get involved as a volunteer and advocate.

You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life, and I have been doing just that with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. This national organization creates hope and provides valuable resources in a comprehensive way through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure.  They are leading the way in changing outcomes for people diagnosed with this devastating disease through a bold initiative, doubling the survival rate of pancreatic cancer by the year 2020.  PanCAN is committed to fighting and ending pancreatic cancer by intensifying efforts to heighten awareness, raise funds for comprehensive research and advocate for dedicated federal research to advance early diagnostics, better treatments and increase chances of survival.

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As an advocate, volunteer, member of the board of directors and past Chair, I am determined to keep the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in the hearts and minds of one and all. I want everyone to know that they are the best at what they do - emphasizing a comprehensive approach with a unique volunteer model. This is made possible with a dedicated, passionate staff and volunteers including the best and the brightest in the scientific and medical community.  I know first hand the critical importance of raising funds for comprehensive private research.  Medical research is the only way we are going to advance early diagnostics, better treatments and increase chances of survival.

At the first break of this PanCAN symposium, a strikingly beautiful young woman with large dark eyes that conveyed curiosity and vulnerability, came up to me to ask me if I was a patient of Dr. Isacoff.  I said yes, and she proceeded to tell me she recognized me from a time she sat in his waiting room with her boyfriend.  They watched me arrive at the office, sign in and she talked about how I exhibited confidence and seemed to have much energy.  They thought I was there visiting a patient; that I couldn’t possibly be a patient until they saw me enter the treatment room, remaining there for some time.  She wanted to introduce herself to learn why I was there.  Her story of courage and determination was heartbreaking as she described her journey and I learned that she was not eligible for surgery.  I listened with compassion and was desperate to find the words that would be helpful, reassuring, and encouraging.  My mind was racing for a way to comfort this beautiful young woman who should not be experiencing any of this.  On that day, and every day after, I have learned the value that PanCAN provides to patients like this lovely woman and all those in the pancreatic cancer community.  Only later did I gain the perspective to appreciate the value of my suffering and how I could give a gift that keeps on giving.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.  The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is the gift that keeps on giving.  Finding and becoming part of this family has dramatically changed my life, for the better. There are friends, there is family and then there are friends that become family.  How lucky I am that I was able to join their family!