Editor’s note: In light of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and November being Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, we are sharing this previously published, inspiring article about a breast and pancreatic cancer survivor who is thriving today and on a mission to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer.
Beating cancer is no easy feat. For Cathy Schwandt of Columbus, Ohio, that is especially true. She is a two-time cancer survivor – first breast cancer and then, many years later, pancreatic cancer. She knows very well the importance of never giving up. She’s also made it her mission, through her volunteer work, to help fellow survivors continue to keep fighting back.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980 at only 28 years old. Not a lot was known about the disease back then.
“I was young, and I didn’t fully understand how serious it was,” Cathy said. “Thankfully, the cancer was totally removed and required no chemotherapy. When I was among other survivors, it was hard to fathom what they went through. I had survivor’s guilt. I felt my road was too easy, I had never considered a bad outcome.”
But when Cathy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, her outlook on cancer changed.
“This diagnosis hit me much harder because pancreatic cancer had been my biggest fear. I always thought, ‘That’s the one cancer I never want to get’ because of the low survival rate. And unfortunately, I got it.”
But she said the diagnosis also drove home the importance of doing what she could to create awareness because pancreatic cancer is still in the shadows, like breast cancer once was, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“After going through breast cancer, and seeing the progress their community has made, I realized that I needed to join the fight to create more awareness for pancreatic cancer.”
Cathy got involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as a volunteer with the Columbus Affiliate. After meeting fellow survivors who had faced the same fears she had, she wanted to do more to help others in a similar situation. She soon became the Community Engagement Chair – a volunteer leadership role that works closely with local pancreatic cancer survivors and their families.
She is also a member of our newly founded Survivor Council which ensures the survivors’ voice, experience and expertise are integrated into the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s programs and initiatives.
“I want to help people going through what I went through, to raise awareness and to advocate for change. I want to educate people about this disease so if it happens to them or someone they know, they won’t be blindsided like most of us were in the beginning.”
Cathy was a speaker at PurpleStride Columbus in 2014. She relayed to the crowd her experience as a pancreatic cancer survivor, but also drew upon her experience as a breast cancer survivor.
“In my speech, I emphasized that we are at the point with pancreatic cancer now that we were with breast cancer when I was diagnosed with that disease over 30 years ago. We need to continue fighting and pushing forward with more intensity as well as invest in more research that will increase survival. We need more purple shirts. Let’s make purple the new pink!”
“That’s certainly a mission for me, and I’m proud to be here, healthy and able to do just that.”
Wage Hope in your community by bringing your experience and skills to your local affiliate, like Cathy’s doing. Find out what’s happening where you are!