Five-year-old Toby is named after Meredith Brunelle’s late mother. When Meredith thinks about her niece Toby, she is reminded of her mom’s energy. She was a firecracker, full of life until pancreatic cancer intervened. She died in 2003, at 57 years old.
Meredith’s maternal grandfather and great-grandmother also died of cancer around the same age as her mother did. Her grandfather was said to have had stomach cancer, but Meredith wonders if it was actually his pancreas.
“I had a feeling pancreatic cancer was going to come for me,” Meredith said. “So, I wanted to be on top of it. I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of someone not keeping an eye on my pancreas.”
It’s why Meredith became a regular donor to PanCAN two decades ago – to help ensure future patients might have a better outcome than her mom did. It’s also why she is including a gift to PanCAN in her will.
And it’s why she had genetic testing and took regular health screenings seriously.
In 2019, a doctor found a small cyst on her pancreas while treating her for an unrelated condition. The doctor was not alarmed, but Meredith told him about her family history and, not wanting to take any chances, enrolled in a pancreatic cancer screening program led by surgeon and researcher Diane Simeone, MD, a member of PanCAN’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board.
In the spring of 2020, Meredith was scheduled for a follow-up MRI as part of that screening program. This time, imaging revealed a tumor in the middle of her pancreas.
It was stage I pancreatic cancer.
Again, Meredith acted quickly.
“I went out with guns blazing,” she said.
She had a distal pancreatectomy, which removed half her pancreas, and a splenectomy, which removed her spleen. Six months of aggressive chemotherapy followed. Her last treatment was over two years ago, and scans have come back clear ever since.
“My doctor is confident we got it at just the right time and has said I’ll live to be 100,” Meredith said.
Meredith is a strong supporter of self-advocacy and encourages patients she meets through her volunteerism with the PanCAN New York City Affiliate to advocate for themselves at every step after diagnosis.
She is a monthly donor and member of PanCAN’s Circle of Hope, a member of Partners in Progress (recognizing supporters who give $1,000 or more annually) and a member of PanCAN’s Micki Love Society, our loyal donors who have included a gift to PanCAN in their will.
“I want to support the good that PanCAN does for people as they go through their journey,” Meredith said, adding that her family used PanCAN Patient Services when her mother was diagnosed and that years later, during her own treatment, Meredith used PanCAN’s free information about diet and nutrition and managing side effects.
“It’s an interesting perspective shift, moving from caregiver to patient,” she said. “I’m grateful that I knew exactly where to get support when the disease affected me, and thanks to PanCAN, I felt educated about it. PanCAN has been at the forefront, from funding research and new discoveries to being there for patients and caregivers. I’m proud to support the organization.”
She urges others to know the genetic testing with their doctor, and to stay on top of healthcare screenings.
“You are the only one who’s able to tell your doctor that you have a family history,” she said.
With every donation to PanCAN, Meredith remembers her mom and the stories she’s heard about her grandfather and great-grandmother. She also thinks about young Toby.
She figures that her money could one day directly help Toby – as well as lead to a brighter future for all people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“I know that my mom was with me during my journey,” she said. “I strongly believe there’s a special place in heaven for my mom…and for all the pancreatic cancer patients we’ve lost.
I’m giving back for them, for my niece, and for the future.”