If you had asked me eight years ago if I knew what pancreatic cancer was or that November was Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, I would have said “no.” However, that all changed when in August 2016, my world was shattered – my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

What started as an appendicitis attack, or so we thought, turned into a lengthy hospital visit that ended with a diagnosis no one wanted or expected. I can remember so clearly through tears my mom telling me to promise her I wouldn’t google it. Why? Because googling it would have revealed the following descriptions: “Pancreatic cancer the silent killer that goes unnoticed until it’s too late,” “#4 deadliest cancer” or, even worse, “Stage 4 has a five-year survival rate of 1%. The average patient diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer will live for about 1 year after diagnosis.”

To give you background on myself at this time – I was 21 years old and had just got an internship at a company in Scottsdale called JDA Software (now Blue Yonder!). I was president of a 200+ member sorority, entering my senior year of college and my mom (Barb) was “my person.” Barb King was amazing – she was the hostess with the mostest, a compassionate business executive, a devoted mother, a loving wife, a generous friend, and loved all people hard. She had a special spot in her heart for James Taylor and lived her life by his lyric, “Shower the people you love with love.” If you have already caught on to my choice of word tense above, then you know how this story ends – my mom passed away July 14, 2017, at 52-years-old and roughly 11 months since diagnosis. Unfortunately, because of the devastating reality of the disease, it is hard to make a blog post about pancreatic cancer that is not also a sad story.

A positive in my mom’s journey was that she got into an aggressive clinical trial through the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), that happened to be based 10 minutes down the road from our house in Scottsdale (talk about a miracle!). TGen is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life-changing results and is part of the City of Hope, a large cancer research and treatment organization.

When meeting with doctors, we were told my mom only had three months to live, but through the clinical trial team my mom’s life was extended far longer than we were told. That was valuable time we will forever be grateful for.

Since 1990, only four of 44 clinical trials for advanced pancreatic cancer have extended patient’s lives. TGen led three of those, setting the standard of care again for this far too often silent killer. In that time, we have seen one-year survival rate jump from 2% to 66%, and two-year survival leap from 0% to 14%. Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed in its late stages, leading to limited treatment options and lower survival rates. In my mom’s case doctors had told us they suspected the cancer was growing in her body for several years (even up to a decade) before it started showing symptoms.

By raising awareness, we can encourage early detection and potentially save lives. Some common risk factors for pancreatic cancer include family history, smoking, and certain genetic mutations. Understanding these risk factors and recognizing potential symptoms, such as jaundice, unexplained weight loss, or abdominal pain, can lead to earlier diagnosis and improved outcomes. One way to make a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer is to support research and fundraising efforts across the world.

This next year is a big one for me – I am getting married. While I know my mom is so much a part of me, big life events are still hard. Her absence is felt, and she is always missed but like anything life is about working with the cards you are dealt. So, we move forward choosing to be joyful in her honor, and we will save her a seat at the end of the aisle.

My mom’s memory lives on as a testament to the strength and resilience of those who have faced pancreatic cancer. By sharing her story and raising awareness about this devastating disease, I hope to honor her legacy and strive to make a positive impact in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Let’s continue to support research, advocate for early detection, and provide hope to those affected by this challenging diagnosis. Together, we can make a difference by working towards a future with improved outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients.

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