CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Vickie Atkinson didn't know much about pancreatic cancer before 2014. She wishes she still knew nothing about it. But truth is, since her sister was diagnosed, pancreatic cancer has touched those she loves more than she could have ever imagined. That's why she will be at PurpleStride again this year on September 10, 2016.
"Before my sister Krystal was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer I never paid attention to it, never knew much about it," Vickie Atkinson told me.
Less than a month ago, on July 8, Vickie's sister, Krystal Troxel, died from pancreatic cancer. Krystal lived longer than most patients, longer than doctors ever expected. Vickie remembers exactly when and how Krystal was diagnosed.
"We started this journey on March 20, 2014. Krystal was at work as a FedEx driver and she was hurting in her stomach really bad. After hurting for so long, her boss took her to the emergency room. That's where doctors found the mass on her pancreas. She had surgery to remove two-thirds of her pancreas, they took part of her stomach, ten lymph nodes, and her spline," Vickie told me.
Krystal was in and out of the hospital for close to six months. She started chemotherapy in August of 2014. And the fight was on!
Chemo was rough, according to Vickie. Sometimes the nausea was just terrible. But Vickie's 45-year-old sister was a fighter.
"Krystal was convinced she was going to lick this disease. And she believed God had her here for a purpose. And she was going to outlive the doctors' expectations. And she did!! They first gave her six months to live. But through the grace of God she lived two years and four months," Vickie said.
Krystal, like a lot of people who face a grave illness, are more worried about those who will be left behind. Her husband, Russell Ewing, her daughter, Candice, and her grandkids Drayton and Lexi. Cancer at 45 was nothing she expected. And pancreatic cancer is something rarely detected early.
"It was pretty much a miracle she lived as long as she did. I think Krystal was more worried about how we perceived her cancer than how she felt it," Vickie said. "She endured extensive chemo up until March of this year!"
Since her diagnosis, Krystal's family has had a presence at The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's PurpleStride 5K with 'Krystal's Crazy Crew'.
"In 2014, Krystal's team had a goal of $1,500 dollars, last year we upped it to $5,000. This year we're aiming to raise $10,000 to help researchers find a way to catch this cancer early, and find a cure. We expect we will surpass that goal by this Friday, August 5," Vickie told me.
The team has grown from a few family members to nearly 30 people. It's not just because of Krystal's death to pancreatic cancer, the circle of people around Krystal and Vickie's families have also had loss from pancreatic cancer.
While Krystal was waging her own war on the disease, her daughter's fiancé' lost his father to pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed and in given weeks to live, but died just days after the diagnosis. In July of last year Vickie's step-mom was told she too had pancreatic cancer. Unlike Krystal, her battle wasn't long at all, she was told she had two weeks max, she passed ten days later.
So on September 10 in uptown Charlotte at Marshall Park, look for Krystal's Crazy Crew. They're determined to raise as much as they can to better the odds of survival.
The Pancreatic Action Network's motto is to Wage Hope. Vickie agrees. While pancreatic cancer has devastated her family, she knows Krystal would never want to give up the fight and never give up hope.
"Purple Stride encourages me," Vickie told me, "The biggest thing for me is to see the support for Krystal and seeing so many people who loved her. It encourages me in this fight against pancreatic cancer! I'm just so happy she did a lot of things she wanted to do in her last months and lived every day to the fullest. I know she's proud that we're still a part of PurpleStride even though our sweet girl isn't with us."
If you can't join us, we'd appreciate a tax-deductible donation that goes to research and clinical trials, many of which are being done here in Charlotte at Carolinas Medical Center.