City hall and the CN Tower glowed purple Friday, Nov. 30 to raise awareness of one of the deadliest – yet also one of the most unrecognized – forms of cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer Canada used the purple lights to draw attention to the deadly illness, which has a low six per cent survival rate.
Both Annex resident Libby Znaimer and downtown Toronto resident Dr. Michael Clarfield have both battled pancreatic cancer and were among the fortunate minority to have been successful in their fight.
Znaimer had previously battled breast cancer and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few years later. She was suffering abdominal pain and, after early X-rays and CAT scans came back negative, she finally received the bad news.
“My tumour was locally advanced, which means that it hadn’t spread, but it had wrapped around the veins and arteries,” she said.
After some initial drug treatment, her tumour shrank by 50 per cent, which was a rarity.
“My surgeon said it was the first time he’d seen an inoperable tumour become operable,” she said.
She underwent a traumatic surgery in which one-quarter of her pancreas and a portion of her small bowel was removed.
“It was just about the toughest surgery there is,” she said.
Doctors later discovered Znaimer has a rare, hereditary genetic mutation that makes her more susceptible to cancer. Despite that news, with proper treatment and frequent examinations, she has now been cancer-free for four years.
Clarfield was diagnosed four years ago when he was also experiencing abdominal pain. Because he is a physician, he was able to have tests conducted in his office, which showed he had a large pancreatic tumour.
“The good news for me was that it was contained, which means it hadn’t spread elsewhere,” he said. “But as a doctor, I knew that most people don’t survive six months time.”
Clarfield had some experience with the illness, having lost his mother to pancreatic cancer 10 years ago. Having seen what she went through, he had some sense of what awaited him.
He underwent a lengthy surgery during which his pancreas was completely removed, leaving him diabetic, and underwent six months of radiation and chemotherapy.
“In some ways, (the post-surgical treatment) was worse than the surgery,” he said.
While he has had a few scares during follow-up checkups, he has remained cancer-free since his treatment ended more then three years ago.
Both Znaimer and Clarfield said they know they are fortunate to have survived their battles. Most are not so lucky.
“When I was diagnosed, four to five per cent of people lived two years after diagnosis,” Clarfield said. “Since then we’ve gone from four or five per cent to six and if we can keep inching that up, it would be great.”
Znaimer noted a number of factors keep pancreatic cancer off of most people’s radars, partly due to the fact there are few survivors around to tell of their struggles.
“There’s a lack of research and a lack of charitable donations,” she said. “It’s a very tough disease to crack because (doctors) don’t often find it until very late and it’s resistant to chemotherapy.”
Pancreatic Cancer Canada is looking to raise funds and awareness through its Purple Lights Campaign, with purple holiday lights and signs available through the organization’s website at www.pancreaticcancercanada.ca