Selectmen support pancreatic cancer fight

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Ken Borsuk At left, Nina Carranza, community engagement chair for the Connecticut chapter of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and, at right, cancer survivor Ruth Diamond were presented with a proclamation by First Selectman Peter Tesei.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, and last week the Board of Selectmen once again showed the town’s support of fighting it with a proclamation declaring November to be Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in Greenwich.

The proclamation was issued as part of a national effort throughout November to increase awareness of pancreatic cancer and its symptoms and to raise funds to find a cure. It already is the fourth deadliest form of cancer in the United States, and projections have it rising to second by 2020. The five-year survival rate is in the single digits, because by the time the symptoms present themselves and are detected, the cancer is already in a late stage. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 73% of those diagnosed die within the first year of their diagnosis.

The group says that the numbers are stark and that in 2014, an estimated 46,420 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States; of that group, 39,590 will die from the disease. To fight that, it is working with municipalities all over the country, and last week the effort brought representatives to Greenwich to meet with the selectmen and again get their support.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network focuses nationally on the issue and has a Connecticut chapter doing work in Greenwich. The group works through an approach that includes public policy, research funding, patient services, and public awareness education for treatment and developing a cure. The group sent two representatives to meet with the Board of Selectmen and accept the proclamation, both of whom have had personal experience with the deadly disease. Nina Carranza, community engagement chair for the Connecticut chapter, first lost her husband to the disease and then her mother-in-law soon after.

She spoke about how her husband survived only five months after being diagnosed because it was too late for doctors to treat the disease effectively by the time it was found. Her mother-in-law was diagnosed soon after and survived only three months. There have been cases of familial links that doctors and research scientists are looking into as well as seeming links to the onset of type 2 diabetes later in adults. But there are no effective genetic tests yet to determine if someone will have it, and Ms. Carranza spoke about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s federal lobbying efforts to get more money to develop better ability to diagnose the disease as early as possible.

Ms. Carranza said one way to improve diagnosis and treatment is to have those with pancreatic cancer participate in clinical trials.

“It is only through clinical trials that they can find a cure, and our network is heavily involved in trying to get people who are diagnosed connected with clinical trials,” Ms. Carranza said. “We have a database of all clinical trials in the United States so they can help someone.”

Ms. Carranza also told the Board of Selectmen at its Nov. 6 meeting that Connecticut is actually facing worse news about pancreatic cancer than the rest of the country. In the state it’s already the second leading cause of cancer-related death. That makes the fight even more important here, she said, along with the need to raise awareness and spread education. Because there is hope — and Ms. Carranza was accompanied by, literally, living proof of that.

Ruth Diamond, a pancreatic cancer survivor, shared her story with the selectmen. Next year will be her 10th year since she was diagnosed. She told the selectmen that her symptom was just itching at first all over her body, which she thought was only a skin allergy. That is a frequent issue with the disease, because, unlike with something like breast cancer, there are no typical detectors that can lead to early diagnosis and because of that, as in Ms. Diamond’s case, discovery of the disease in a person is almost accidental.

Ms. Diamond’s diagnosis was similar to the one that killed Apple icon Steve Jobs, and she said it was fortunate that her doctor recommended surgery right away. It required a week’s stay at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York and Ms. Diamond said she lost 20 pounds because she wasn’t able to eat. She recalled how it took her close to a year to feel fully recovered, but she was lucky when she took her chance with surgery and didn’t have to do radiation or chemotherapy as other patients do.

“I do a biannual CAT scan just to keep everything in check, but so far I’ve been very, very fortunate because they caught it at an early stage and they cut out the tumor,” Ms. Diamond said. “But in most cases, like with Nina’s husband, people do not survive this disease and it is not a disease that gets a lot of attention like lung cancer and breast cancer and that’s why our organization does this very important mission to let people know that with increased funding there will be more research. This organization helps provide grants to scientists to help find detection methods and, eventually, a cure. The top surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian did tell me there was going to be a cure. He’s quite confident of that. It’s just that we have to pool our efforts to make it happen.”

The first selectman’s office frequently issues proclamations to mark important events and dates in town, and Greenwich has done so before for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. First Selectman Peter Tesei said he wanted to bring attention to “this insidious disease and how difficult it can be to treat it.”

As part of the proclamation, Mr. Tesei urged all citizens to “support and recognize the work the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is doing to find a cure.” Ms. Carranza thanked him and everyone in town for all they do to help the network’s efforts and recognizing November as a month dedicated to the fight against the disease.

The network’s Connecticut chapter meets publicly monthly on the second Wednesday of the month at the Smilo Cancer Hospital at Yale, which is part of the Yale-New Haven network affiliated with Greenwich Hospital. More information is available online at Pancan.org.

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