— The American Cancer Society reports that 94 percent of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will die within five years. The average life expectancy is five to seven months, making this form of cancer the one with the lowest survival rate of all cancers tracked.
For one Brownsburg family, that hit home especially hard this year when Shelly Parpart died in April at the age of 38 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only a year prior.
Amy Parpart, Shelly’s sister-in-law, said she knew that something had to be done. With the loss of Shelly and the relative under-exposure of this deadly cancer, the Parpart family started raising money for the cause and participated in the Purple Stride Indianapolis 2013 walk rcently, one that saw unprecedented success.
The Parparts brought 18 people to the event and raised $4,100, part of the record 1,300 participants and $120,000 raised at the event, a 30 percent increase from 2012.
“After she died, I felt like I really needed to do something,” Amy said. “(Shelly) was a very giving person, and I felt very odd just writing a check. I felt like I needed to get involved. She honestly was the kindest and most empathetic person I have ever met. She and her husband were the first people in my husband's family I met in 2001 when I was dating my husband, and they made me feel so welcome.”
Like Amy, Shelly was a nurse. The two forged a friendship when Amy started dating her now husband, Roy. She said the lives Shelly touched were many, and that her loss was a staggering blow to the family.
At the outset, the goal was to raise $1,000, but Amy said they soon realized that was a low ceiling, as friends from all over started donating to the cause.
“Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of total cancer diagnoses per year in the United States,” Amy said. “The mortality rate is incredibly high. The problem is that most people don’t develop symptoms for the cancer until it’s too late, and the symptoms are often really vague.”
She said that Shelly and the lack of exposure for the disease have driven her new passion to help find a cure, or at least better methodology to treat it so those who develop it may survive longer in the future.
The National Cancer Institute spent an estimated $96.7 million on pancreatic cancer research in 2010, but that represents only 2 percent of the approximate $5 billion annual cancer research budget for that year.
“Most people aren’t even surgical candidates by the time it’s picked up and that makes it really difficult to treat,” Amy said. “Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer gets (somewhat) dismal funding from the NCI.”
She said that this past weekend’s event, held near the IUPUI campus, shows that the word is getting out and more people are paying attention to the fight. She plans on making the event an annual one she participates and raises funds for.
“I think people are starting to learn more about pancreatic cancer,” she said. “I think it’s a very passionate group.”
As for #TeamShelly, which she called the fundraising effort this year, she hopes it pays honor to someone she will always miss.
“I think this event showed how much (Shelly) meant to so many people, how she was loved by so many,” Amy said. “I think it shows how willing people were to chip in and help this very important cause. I was really surprised with how much we were able to do.”
Donations may be made and more information gleaned about the fight against pancreatic cancer online at pancan.org.