Wage Hope: Pancreatic cancer’s legacy in one family creates a fighter determined to find a cure

Wage Hope: Pancreatic cancer’s legacy in one family creates a fighter determined to find a cure

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Stephanie Pope will be at PurpleStride September 10, 2016. She'll be there to Wage Hope and honor her grandmother and her mom, both who lost battles to pancreatic cancer!

"Our family was first impacted by pancreatic cancer in 2002.  My grandmother, Beverly, was diagnosed two days after her 69th birthday on January 21, 2002," Stephanie told me.

As with many pancreatic cases the symptoms for Beverly were vague.

"For at least a month prior to diagnosis she had severe back pain, but given that she was overweight, she was sent to a chiropractor to help relieve the pain.  Her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer came once she turned jaundice," according to Stephanie.

Unfortunately, Beverly wasn't given much time to fight. After just two and a half months she died Easter weekend, March 31, 2002.

Stephanie and her family were assured by Beverly's team of doctors that pancreatic cancer was not hereditary like many other cancers, and they need not worry about this aggressive disease affecting their family again.

But that was not to be the case. Once again, pancreatic cancer hit at the heart of their family. And like so many cases it wasn't easy to diagnose.

"In July 2011, my mom, Jacquie, spent the afternoon weeding her flower beds and shortly after began having pain in her right side," Stephanie said.

Her mom figured she'd pulled a muscle, but the pain didn't go away for a couple of weeks. She decided to see her doctor.

Originally they thought she might be having gallbladder issues, but an ultrasound revealed a thickening of her omentum, (the fatty tissue that protects the abdominal organs). Often times this thickening is associated with ovarian or uterine cancer.

Doctors performed a biopsy of the omentum and confirmed the family's worst fears.

"Mom had cancer, but we still had to find the "source" in order to determine her treatment plan. The doctors completed a de-bulking surgery in which they removed portions of the diseased omentum and did a complete hysterectomy, yet they still could not locate the source. What now? If we don't locate the source, the doctors don't know what type of chemotherapy to prescribe... each chemo is designed to target a specific cancer and we still didn't know what cancer to fight," Stephanie said of a tumultuous time for the family.

An endoscopy in September of 2011 revealed Jacquie a tumor about an inch in size inside her pancreas. But the scope also revealed the tumor was wrapped her portal vein, which they were told, made it impossible for doctors to operate.

Stephanie's mom fought through rounds of chemo and two surgeries, but the cancer that started in the pancreas, had spread.

"My mom's battle with pancreatic cancer ended seven months after diagnosis on April 7, 2012," Stephanie can't help but point out, "It was ten years and one week after my grandmother died…it too was Eater weekend!"

"While doing some research during mom's battle, I came across the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. After her passing, I tried to figure out what my family could do to prevent this from happening again... how we could have an impact on the fight against pancreatic cancer?" she asked herself.

As Stephanie points out, they wanted to make "Purple the new Pink", but how? That's where PurpleStride Charlotte comes in.

"We formed our first family team in 2012 with eleven team members and we raised $1,712.  Over the past five years our team has grown to include extended family, friends, and coworkers and has raised over $10,000 for PurpleStride Charlotte," Stephanie exclaims. Something certainly to be proud of!

Stephanie has used her deep sorrow as a motivator. She doesn't want another family to endure what she has lived through. She's been a part of the PurpleStride planning since 2014. And actually went to Capitol Hill during the 2015 Advocacy Day and spoke about her how pancreatic cancer took her mom and grandmother.

Stephanie, and the others volunteers at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, are on a mission.

"I am blessed to be surrounded by other members of the Charlotte Affiliate that are just as passionate about doubling the pancreatic cancer survival rate by 2020," she told me.

Let's help make that a reality by raising critical funds for research to find a way to detect and cure this devastating disease.

If you're already on a team, make sure to use #WBTVandMe when you post pictures of your crew. And if you haven't joined a team, we'd love for you to be a part of ours. I'll be there and I'd love to meet you!!

Join here: http://support.pancan.org/goto/wbtvandme

Together we can help families, like Stephanie's, turn a tragic loss into a sense of hopefulness. Let's Wage Hope together September 10.

If pancreatic cancer has touched your family, please send me an email describing your experience: moboyle@wbtv.com. Please put "PurpleStride" in the subject line.

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