It was time to tell his story.
He breathed in deeply, stepped forward confidently, and with conviction and fortitude, told the legislative staffer in Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Washington, D.C., office why he was on Capitol Hill that sunny day in June 2015 along with more than 500 other advocates from around the country.
Eric Doppelt may’ve had a little nervous energy, but he wasn’t timid. He was at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s annual National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day to give this devastating disease a voice in one of the places it matters most – on Capitol Hill.
“Too often people aren’t aware of pancreatic cancer, so not enough is being done to stop it,” he said. “I attended Advocacy Day for the first time this year to help change that. I wanted to share my personal connection to pancreatic cancer to encourage more federal funding for cancer research and to make a difference in the lives of everyone affected by this disease.”
Eric is only 15 – a rising sophomore. There with his dad and his uncle, he was one of the youngest in the group of N.Y. residents visiting their senator’s office to share their stories.
Eric’s is about his best friend, confidant and partner in crime. It’s about his Aunt Jane, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013 and is in treatment again after having had the Whipple surgery and rounds of chemotherapy two years ago. Though she and her doctors remain optimistic, it has been a hard-fought battle.
Unfortunately, stories like Eric’s are common at Advocacy Day, but participants have the opportunity to Wage Hope and find a sense of camaraderie there. Each year, hundreds of volunteer advocates from around the country make the trip to Capitol Hill to tell their members of Congress why more federal funding for pancreatic cancer research is important to them – and why it’s critical to making progress against the disease. The impact of all of these voices carrying the same message never fails to have an impact. This year, the week after Eric and other advocates were at Advocacy Day, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which would provide a mandatory increase in National Institutes of Health funding. Advocates are focusing on getting the Senate to take action on a similar bill today.
For Eric, being on the road advocating for his aunt and the thousands of others affected by pancreatic cancer is not new. This past spring, before the snow had entirely melted across the Northeast, he, his parents, other family members and friends participated with Team Jane in PurpleStride® 5K walk/run events in New York City, New Jersey, Delaware and Chicago. Team Jane also enthusiastically rallied at PurpleStride San Francisco, where more of the Doppelt family lives. In total, nearly $16,000 was raised for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network through Team Jane participation at these events.
“People usually attend just one PurpleStride event each year, maybe two if they’re lucky enough to have more than one in their area,” Eric said. “I had wanted to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since my aunt was diagnosed, but I was 13 at the time and had no idea how to do it.
“Then my family and I went to PurpleStride New Jersey 2013, and I was blown away by the positive energy there. My dad and I talked about getting more involved after that, and pretty soon I had created a website to fundraise, and from there, word spread quickly. With my website, I was able to reach friends and family as well as people around the world. It’s brought in people who might not have gotten involved otherwise. I’m impressed and grateful for everyone’s generosity.”
If Eric were to impart one piece of advice for others trying to inspire generosity or interest in the cause, it would be this: Don’t be embarrassed to share your story.
“When people hear why I’m involved, they say, ‘It’s the coolest thing you’re doing.’ And my aunt always tells me she’s inspired – that even on her worst day, knowing that we’re all behind her boosts her spirits. That gives me even more motivation to keep going.”
For Jane Negrin, her devoted nephew IS her motivation.
“That Eric chose to honor me by becoming so involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network … I’m very touched,” she said. “He is a wonderful person – he’s that great combination of being able to have fun with a twinkle in his eye, but also very committed to taking certain things in life seriously. He’s a great friend … not to mention a good prankster – we have a lot of fun together.”
Stories of their friendship and good memories of his aunt are always with Eric. Since he was born, she has been there for him.
Fun-loving, energetic, the life of the party. Caring, empathetic, relatable. For Eric, that’s Aunt Jane.
For example, there was the time years ago that Negrin babysat Eric and his older brother. She told them, “You can do whatever you want today!”
What Eric wanted was to eat a whole tub of ice cream by himself.
And he did.
“That’s one of my earliest memories of her,” he said. “And that was a GREAT day.”
Today, he recalls his time at Advocacy Day – emotional though it was – as a great day, too.
“It was life-changing. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by people I had never met while opening myself up and sharing my aunt’s story. Never before in my life have I felt so supported. Everyone was looking out for each other. Everyone understood each other’s pain. That every single person around me had been touched by this cancer was staggering. But I’m so fortunate to have been there. I met so many wonderful survivors. Hearing each and every one of their stories was something I will always remember.
“Knowing I made a difference by asking for more federal funding still fills me with pride. It was awesome to see Capitol Hill blanketed in purple by all of us, and I know the friendships we made will last forever.
“Already, I can’t wait for next year!”
Until then, Eric is spending part of his summer away at camp in Pennsylvania, but when he returns, he’ll get to work drumming up Team Jane participation and selecting which PurpleStride events he’ll attend over the next year.
For him, for Aunt Jane, it’s important to keep the momentum going.
In fact, among Eric’s favorite quotes is one by Martin Luther King, Jr., which he said sums up his attitude and is undoubtedly the way many feel who Wage Hope every day in the fight against pancreatic cancer:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”