This post originally appeared on my old personal blog “Michigander in Mass”. Less than two years ago, I lost my cousin to cancer. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time. Not even two years later, I want the world to know I haven’t forgotten my cuz.
In Loving Memory of Brad Van Hoosear (1970-2007)
Photo Copyright (c) Kay Phelan, uploaded by tvanhoosear
Brad Van Hoosear died in December 2007 of pancreatic cancer at the young age of 37. Here are some facts about pancreatic cancer, many from Brad’s mother, who was at Brad’s side throughout his terrible ordeal.
In 2007, The National Cancer Institute estimates 37,170 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 33,370 deaths in USA. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will have passed away by the end of the first year. Americans are twice as likely to be affected by pancreatic cancer that Europeans, for reasons unknown.
The symptoms of pancreatic cancer, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancreatic_cancer, but verified elsewhere) include pain in the upper abdomen that typically radiates to the back and is relieved by leaning forward, loss of appetite, significant weight loss and jaundice. By the time you feel the pain from pancreatic cancer, however, it’s likely already beyond most typical cancer treatments currently available.
Furthermore, there are currently no non-intrusive, conclusive tests for pancreatic cancer beyond magnetic and sonic imaging that can pick up cancer masses, but which typically are only authorized after symptoms appear, when it’s already too late.
There are some known risk factors for the disease (the Wikipedia article lists several), and a few preventative measures, including quitting smoking, taking vitamin D, and eating foods rich in vitamins B12, B6 and folate.
The incidence of pancreatic cancer increases with age; most people are between 60 and 80 when they receive the diagnosis. Brad was 37. He was so young that, even though his symptoms were exactly those of the cancer, he was misdiagnosed because of his age. The doctor even said “If you were 60, I’d say you had pancreatic cancer.” Well, he did. But even if he had been diagnosed, it would’ve been too late.
There are people actively looking into ways to new treatment options. One such person is Michelle Calabretta, Ph.D., who blogs about her research at http://drmiggy.wordpress.com/ (she’s also on Twitter at http://twitter.com/drmiggy), but there are many others—you can read her blog for lots of good information and links to all kinds of cancer research, not just pancreatic.
In the U.S., pancreatic cancer is 9th or 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer (depending on gender), but the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men and women. The median survival period from the time of diagnosis until demise is arguably the worst of any of the cancers. The median survival for untreated advanced cancer of the pancreas is about 3 1/2 months; with good treatment this increases to about six months. Brad fought the disease for a year and a half—his youth and strength of spirit carried him.
I knew very little about this disease when Brad was first diagnosed. Quickly, however, I learned that a coworker’s cousin had died of it. When I tweeted about it yesterday (http://twitter.com/vanhoosear), more cases came out of the woodwork. In my network of 300+ Twitter followers, six wrote back saying they had lost a friend, acquaintance or family member to this disease! (Dozens more shared sympathy and support, for which I am very thankful, as is Brad’s direct family, with whom I shared this groundswell of support.)
A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is a death sentence. There is no cure, few treatment options, and the 5 year survival rate is less than 5%. Despite this high mortality rate, the federal government spends woefully little money on pancreatic cancer research. It’s a very painful way to die, few treatments exist, and no cures.
The National Cancer Institute’s cancer research budget was $4.824 billion in 2004, an estimated $52.7 million of which was devoted to pancreatic cancer (1% of the budget for the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men and women). Research spending per pancreatic cancer patient is $1,145, the lowest of any leading cancer.
There are things you can do to help change this!
Next, tell your friends and family about the disease, especially if they match a lot of the predisposing factors outlined in Wikipedia.
Remember that November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Buy a purple ribbon pin to show your support: http://tinyurl.com/2964gg.
If cancer has affected you personally, tell people about it. I’ve found the experience very fulfilling and comforting.
Finally, consider supporting awareness and research into treating this terrible disease. There are many causes out there. These are just a few:
- American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/DON/DON_0.asp
- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN): http://www.pancan.org/
- Pancreatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: http://www.pancsoc.org.uk/
- Johns Hopkins Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center: http://pathology.jhu.edu/pancreas/
- Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research: http://www.lustgarten.org/
My dear cousin left behind a very rich life, despite its shortness, wonderful memories for his friends and family (including myself), and one final, incredible gift. Brad’s final legacy was to donate his cancerous tissue to Dr. Iacobuzio-Donahue‘s research department at Johns Hopkins University in the effort to help find a cure for this dreaded disease.
If you knew Brad, or have been moved by this particular case, please consider making a memorial donation directly to the work of Dr. Iacobuzio-Donahue in Brad’s honor:
“GI Medical Donation Program”
c/o Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue, MD, PhD
Dept of Pathology Johns Hopkins University
1550 Orleans Street, CRB II, Room 343
Baltimore, MD 21231
Please include your name and address, and note that your donation is being made in memory of Bradley Van Hoosear.
Brad, thank you. You’ve inspired friends, family, and now hundreds of people online to think about pancreatic cancer, moving us one important step closer to treating, preventing and someday curing this terrible cancer.
You will be missed!