Editor’s note: Our series focused on pancreatic cancer survivors leading into PanCAN Action Week (starting June 13!) continues, featuring a moving speech from Reesa Levy given at PurpleStride Broward-Palm Beach on April 30, 2022.
We hope you are as inspired by Reesa, and all pancreatic cancer survivors, as we are. To show your support, RSVP for “Voices in Action,” the free, virtual kickoff to PanCAN Action Week and advocate for all pancreatic cancer survivors by urging Congress to increase federal research funding for the disease.
Gearing up for Action Week, Reesa – who is the volunteer Advocacy Chair in the PanCAN Broward-Palm Beach Affiliate, said:
Here, Reesa’s PurpleStride speech:
When I was first diagnosed, I knew very little about this disease and what my options for care and survival were. I was so naïve, that when answering a friend’s comment about me not looking well, I responded casually that I had pancreatic cancer.
She started to cry – really hard.
Now, in retrospect, I totally understand why she reacted to my disease so seriously. But lucky for me, I was surrounded by my family, especially my daughter Ashley, who had done hours of research into my options and my care. And lucky for others now being diagnosed, there is our organization, PanCAN.
My story is quite miraculous. After a great summer, I felt a pain on my right side that seemed serious, and I went to my doctor to check it out. She sent me for a CT scan, and I was diagnosed with appendicitis. But not only did the scan detect appendicitis, they also saw a shadow on my pancreas. After another scan I was sent for a biopsy and indeed it was confirmed I had pancreatic cancer.
At that point my daughter’s research was ready and she whisked me off to a fabulous surgeon at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. I had laparoscopic surgery, where the tail of my pancreas, my spleen, small amount of colon and stomach were removed. I returned to Florida and did six months of chemo and was then actually cancer free!
To hopefully remain cancer-free, I went into a critical trial. Before my surgery, my goddaughter, a doctor, told me, “If they offer a clinical trial, take it – you will get great care and probably a positive benefit.” My clinical trial was advanced immunotherapy, where they made a vaccine out of my tumor (removed during the operation) and over a six-month period, injected it back into my body to encourage antibodies to fight returning cancer cells.
My clinical trials were funded by the National Institutes of Health, which PanCAN works with legislators in Washington to fund. I am closely involved with this effort, as the Advocacy Chair for our PanCAN volunteer chapter.
In ending, I want to thank all of you for your work on behalf of pancreatic cancer. When I began my journey, 6% of those with pancreatic cancer survived for five years, and now that number is 11%. This extraordinary result is attributed of all the dedicated scientific researchers and to your advocacy and hard work.