Conquering a deadly disease

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But what wasn’t taken into account is the steadfast determination of people that have been touched by a disease where the odds are stacked against them.  Like Dr. Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon professor and author of The Last Lecture, who testified in front of Congress just months before he died from pancreatic cancer; like Tyler Noesen who traveled to Capitol Hill at the age of 30 in a wheelchair because he was weak from his pancreatic cancer treatments; or like Jill Ward, an active 54 year old mother of three, who was told that she had tried the last treatment option available to her, but she still met with her Congressmen with a smile on her face because she knew it would help those that came after her. This army of patients, families and friends were emboldened by the challenge they faced. They wrote to their congressmen, traveled to Washington, D.C., and went above and beyond in hopes of making a difference in honor of loved ones, for themselves and for future generations.     

The passage of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act is a significant milestone for the pancreatic cancer community. Pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer killer with a five-year relative survival rate in the single digits at just six percent. Even more distressing is a report recently released by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network that shows pancreatic cancer is anticipated to move from the fourth to the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. by 2020, and possibly as early as 2015.  

The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act will be an important step toward reversing this unacceptable trend. The legislation is historic in nature, as it is the first substantive legislation for pancreatic cancer and will require an evaluation of current efforts in researching the disease and on ways to improve outcomes. The bill was crafted, marshaled and championed through Congress by Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).  Former Representative Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) was the original House Republican lead and when she retired, Representative Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) took up the mantle. Thanks to the passionate support and relentless dedication of these elected officials and their bi-partisan congressional colleagues, we are remarkably closer toward achieving our goal of doubling the pancreatic cancer survival rate by 2020.

For many, the president’s signature will be more than just a step in the right direction; it will be the culmination of the tireless efforts of hundreds of volunteers and the hopes of pancreatic cancer patients like Randy, Tyler and Jill, all whom dream of a better future. That dream was challenged many times along the way; yet, the pancreatic cancer community persisted and in a testament to its strength, this historic legislation passed. 

While this achievement should certainly be celebrated, we still have a long way to go to defeat this terrible disease. Real progress will require the continued dedication of researchers, policy makers and advocates. Make no mistake, however, the passage of The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, is a significant step and during this holiday season, reminds me that dreams can come true.  

Fleshman is president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.