Teen pancreatic cancer advocate sits in U.S. Congress member’s office during Advocacy Day

Jackson Carnaghi at Advocacy Day 2018.

Editor’s note: Our “It Starts with Someone” series chronicles all kinds of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) supporters – volunteers, survivors, caregivers, advocates, researchers – and describes the “someone” who has impacted their efforts in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Today, 14-year-old Jackson Carnaghi tells us about the inspiration behind his commitment to being a PanCAN volunteer and champion.

“You’re just a kid.” It’s a phrase young people often hear when adults think a task or idea is too big for them to complete or understand. But for one 14-year-old, “you’re just a kid,” doesn’t have a period at the end of it. For him, it’s the beginning of the sentence.

Jackson Carnaghi is just a kid who spends hundreds of hours each year giving his time and talents to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN).

He’s just a kid who leads PurpleStride Jacksonville’s “Team Denny” – a team that has raised more than $75,000 since 2013 in the walk to end pancreatic cancer. And they plan to raise another $10,000 by the end of 2019.

He is just a kid who every year, for the past five years, has traveled from his home in Florida to the nation’s capital for Advocacy Day to urge lawmakers to increase cancer research funding.

And Carnaghi is just a kid who was recently nominated by his community to be included in St. Augustine Social’s Rising Stars of 2018 special feature.

“It’s nice to see that someone standing up for pancreatic cancer – especially a kid – is being recognized,” Carnaghi said of his one-page magazine spread. “Any publicity brings education to everyone about pancreatic cancer.”

A young boy smiles with his grandfather who passed away from pancreatic cancer

Jackson and his late grandfather, John “Denny” Carnaghi.

The “someone” behind his passion to change the story of pancreatic cancer is John “Denny” Carnaghi. While Denny, his grandfather, died from pancreatic cancer many years ago, Carnaghi and his mother, Amy Osteryoung, have found ways to keep his memory alive. They fundraise for research, volunteer to raise awareness and travel to Washington, D.C., for Advocacy Day to urge Congress to make pancreatic cancer a national priority.

“My inspiration to get into advocating for pancreatic cancer,” Carnaghi explained to the magazine, “was to not see anyone, any kid, or any friend have to go through what my family and I went through. It is hard and painful to see someone I loved so much be in so much pain.

“So, my ultimate goal would be to continue to encourage our state and national legislators to fund pancreatic cancer research. It is there that I think we can really make a difference. The cure is out there, we just have to find it.”

Carnaghi’s interview was featured alongside seven other young people who are working to change the world from the their coastal community of St, Augustine via art, music and service. The purpose of the piece was to highlight the ways the next generation will improve our planet through their good work.

Adolescent pancreatic cancer advocate in our nation’s capital for 2013 and 2018 Advocacy Day

Jackson at his first Advocacy Day in 2013, and his most recent one in 2018.

“We don’t give enough credit to younger people, and we make assumptions sometimes on what their limitations might be,” Carnaghi’s mother, Amy, said. “In fact, a lot of young people have boundless energy and want to make the world a better place.

“Anytime you can support your children, I think you should. They not only can be the change but by volunteering to help, it gives them a sense of purpose. What better way to ensure that young people care about the state of our nation than to be personally invested in their future?”

Carnaghi is just a kid … who is looking for a way to bring an end to the devastating disease that took his grandfather.

“Never give up. The more effort you give, the more you can change,” he said. “You have a voice. Anybody can make a change by speaking up, whether it’s small or big. You have a voice. Be the change.”

Read Jackson’s full Rising Stars of 2018 story.

Contact a Patient Central Associate
Are you inspired by Jackson’s story? You can make a difference, too. Get involved today!