Editor’s Note: As part of Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, PanCAN talked with mother and daughter duo Roberta and Adrienne Zeigler about the important work they are doing to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer in their community in Detroit.
Patients newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer often find their way to Adrienne Zeigler and her mother, Roberta, a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor.
The pair have made it their mission to spread awareness, knowledge and hope to their extended community in Detroit. They’ve appeared at events representing PanCAN and have been loyal PanCAN PurpleStride participants for years. At every turn, their goal is to empower and encourage all who come to them.
“My mother and I being people who have strong faith in God, we tell them that this is a difficult time and to hold on and to hold on to God,” Adrienne said. “We give them our kind of spiritual encouragement.”
They also focus on the positive – the stories of survival and the fact that more and more people are overcoming this disease.
“I try to talk about all the survivors, not just my mom, but all the other survivors I’ve met,” she said. “They’re beating it and they’re living longer.”
For Roberta, she finds purpose in reaching others who are facing similar battles.
“It’s critical when you are battling cancer to have hope,” she said. “You cannot give up. During my chemotherapy treatments, I had a special Bible verse I read every day. It was my comfort and fuel for the fight. I want to share with others my story because yes the road is hard, but you are not in the fight alone. Hearing positive stories can be the encouragement others need to keep fighting.”
This message – coupled with awareness of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer – is especially important for the Black community, as Black Americans are at an increased risk for the disease. This group has the highest incidence rate of pancreatic cancer in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute SEER data.
“The only reason why mom is probably still alive is because she knew something was wrong and she was diligent about getting it checked out,” she said. “They caught the cancer at a stage where they could do something about it.”
In addition, her work with PanCAN, Adrienne is the social action chair for a Black Greek organization called Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., one of nine in the National Pan-Hellenic Council or Black Greek Council. Through her work on the committee, she furthers the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. initiative to address women’s health and raise awareness about health disparities that exist with the Black community. The National Pan-Hellenic Council also has a national initiative related to raising awareness about cancer research and clinical trials with a goal to “change the conversation about clinic trials and encourage participation within the Black community.”
One important topic: Clinical trials. Racial and ethnic minorities are persistently underrepresented in
pancreatic cancer clinical trials. Not only does this limit treatment options for individual patients who never consider this option, diversifying clinical trials ensures that treatment outcomes are reflective of all patient groups.
Adrienne wants to make sure everyone she speaks with understands the importance of clinical trials – and the critical need for participation from members of the Black community. The discussion often begins with addressing the medical establishment’s long history of mistreatment of Black Americans and the collective trauma it caused. While acknowledging that pain, Adrienne also talks about ways to move forward.
“It’s a powerful conversation,” she said. “The fear is there. It’s real, and they have the right to have it, but how do we get beyond this fear? How do we do what we need to do so we can be represented in these clinical trials?”
Adrienne and Roberta also continue to be engaged in their local PanCAN Affiliate, connecting with others and building a strong community.
Roberta, who will be celebrating her 80th birthday this summer, participated in PanCAN PurpleStride Detroit this year with Adrienne at her side, despite a cold and rainy day. They had friends and family with them and even more who donated to their team, called Love’s Miracle.
That more people are joining Roberta as survivors every year gives them hope.
“The first couple of times we went, you didn’t see that many people for the survivor recognition,” Adrienne said. “The number of people on the stage just gets bigger every year. I think that more people are becoming aware of the walk, but I also think it’s because more people are surviving.”