CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - This week marks a tough anniversary for Tom Gill. What started as a "Happy Birthday" phone call to his brother Eddie on August 28, 2010, turned into a conversation that would change their lives forever.
After Tom and his kids sang Uncle Eddie Happy Birthday, Eddie said he needed to talk to Tom alone.
"My brother asked if my wife Leisa would take both Rebecca and Elizabeth upstairs so he could speak to me alone. This is not typical of him so I was confused. My wife and children went upstairs and Eddie proceeded to become emotional on the video call and I asked him what was wrong?" Tom remembers.
Eddie, who was a doctor, proceeded to break the news.
"Tommy, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this morning," Eddie said through tears.
"I was surprised and angry but quickly became calm as I saw my brother's sadness overwhelm him. I had never heard of pancreatic cancer nor did I know how horrible of a cancer it truly was," Tom said.
So he asked his brother, "What is this and what does this mean? My brother was a doctor so I thought for sure he could explain all this to me. He then proceeded to tell me, 'Tommy, it's not a good one'," Eddie explained.
Tom felt helpless with Eddie almost a thousand miles away. Tom broke down, they both cried he remembers, but Eddie not as much. He says Eddie was a strong guy. He just couldn't wrap his mind around this for his brother Eddie!
Tom says Eddie struggled with his horrible cancer, but continued to work. He never gave up on his fight. Doctors attempted a "Whipple" procedure in 2011 to remove the tumor and reattach organs. But when Tom says the surgeon found a shadow on Eddie's liver and the doctor stopped the procedure immediately.
"The doctor explained that they will only go through this procedure if it was a cure, but the spot on the liver caused him to discontinue. Eddie was devastated and yet refused to give up hope. He continued to search for a physician that would take his case and be aggressive enough to do the "Whipple" even with a spot on the Liver," Tom said.
Eddie eventually found a surgeon at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia who was willing to do the operation. Eddie He moved from Boston to Philadelphia to have the procedure done.
"My mother and six other siblings were thrilled to have him there. In April of 2012 my brother finally had the surgery and it was successful. The doctor explained that the tumor was gone and they would do experimental radiation to target the spot on his liver. My entire family was elated," Tom remembers.
His brother celebrated by getting a beach house and inviting the whole family including all the nieces and nephews for a week of celebration.
But Tom says they wanted to do something more.
"So my family and I signed up for the very first PurpleStride race in Charlotte in September of 2012. We were excited for my brother and wanted to help bring hope to others in light of this terrible disease," Tom said.
But just a month after the PurpleStride Eddie was having pain. It was almost time for his six-month check-up, so the doctors decided to go ahead and have a look.
That's when Eddie and his family learned the radiation had not worked. The cancer had metastasized throughout his liver.
"Eddie passed away in four short weeks on November 17, 2012 at only 53 years old. It was such a blessing to have two years together before he passed, and we were lucky because most patients only have weeks or months," Tom says.
Tom is right. He was lucky to have Eddie for those two precious years. Pancreatic cancer is usually only discovered in its advanced stages.
"My sadness and sorrow quickly turned to anger after his passing. I continued to go to The Pancreatic Cancer Affiliate meetings here in Charlotte, and it helped me channel my anger into feeling productive in a fight to end Pancreatic Cancer. I was approached by some of the core members of the local affiliate asking if I would consider leading the Affiliate."
"I prayed about this decision and I saw it as a way to turn my sorrow into a passion to Wage Hope against Pancreatic Cancer. I have been the Affiliate Chair for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since February of 2013, and this has become a passion of mine in memory of my brother, my friend, 'Uncle Eddie,'" Tom said.
Please be a part of that passion to Wage Hope. Join us for PurpleStride Saturday September 10th at Marshall Park.
Tom Gill is the Affiliate Chair for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – Charlotte. You can join his team on the LiftEdUp page http://support.pancan.org/goto/LiftEdUp
WBTV is proud to be media sponsor. And we are also proud to have our own team if you'd like to join: http://support.pancan.org/site/TR?team_id=2230&fr_id=1129&pg=team