Each day at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, we are touched by the heartwarming stories of people who are giving back to the cause as a way to honor or remember someone special to them.
This month, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, we thought we’d share a conversation we recently had with Nikki McLain, a donor through our Circle of Hope monthly giving program, and her mother, Eileen Huckstadt, a 21-year pancreatic cancer survivor. McLain, who lives in Edina, Minn., near Minneapolis, and Huckstadt, who lives in Danville, Ill., near Champaign, live nine hours apart by car but say they’ve never felt closer to each other.
Pancreas Matters (PM): Nikki and Eileen, thank you so much for sharing your story! Tell me how you got connected with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Nikki McLain (NM): I’ve known about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for a while because my mom is a pancreatic cancer survivor. But last year, when the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS was getting a lot of attention, it made me wonder why people weren’t doing more to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer. It made me want to do more. I already donate to several charities that are important to me, but I wanted to do something to feel like I was making a difference in the fight against pancreatic cancer, too. I went to your website, read a little about the monthly giving program, saw how easy it was to sign up and just did it!
Eileen Huckstadt (EH): I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when I was 41 years old, which was 21 years ago. Unfortunately, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network didn’t exist at that time. Years later, I learned about your organization online and since then have enjoyed getting news and information from you. In particular, I really appreciate all the organization is doing to support research.
PM: Eileen, 21 years! That is incredible and so inspiring to hear.
EH: Thank you – I feel very fortunate. My doctors said the cancer would likely return, but so far, so good. I have been very lucky. I got to see both my children grow up, and I’ll hopefully get to watch my first grandchild, Marlow, who just turned 1 year old, grow up, too.
PM: Nikki, how old were you when your mom was diagnosed?
NM: I was almost 14, and my brother was 9. She went into the hospital on Christmas Day, and we were all very worried. My parents didn’t tell us it was cancer until she was well on the path to recovery, but we definitely knew she was very sick.
EH: We just weren’t sure what was going to happen so we didn’t tell the kids the whole story for a while. What had started with flu-like symptoms turned into jaundice almost overnight. I remember on Christmas night my doctor sitting at my bedside and telling my husband he needed to drive me to a specialist immediately. A few days later, I had the Whipple. Then radiation, chemotherapy and a feeding tube that the doctor said I’d have the rest of my life. That wasn’t the case, though – I don’t have a feeding tube now, and most days I feel good, although I am diabetic and have some lingering digestive issues.
PM: Nikki, how do you think your mom’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis when you were so young shaped your relationship with her?
NM: My mom and I have always been close, but during my teenage years, knowing I might lose her made me value our relationship even more. Anytime you risk losing someone, you think about how much that person means to you. As an adult, I appreciate so much that she’s been able to be a part of all the important milestones in my life – graduating high school and college, getting married and becoming a mother! We are closer today than ever.
PM: Valentine’s Day is coming up. What qualities about your mom do you love most?
NM: She is just an awesome mom. She has always put us first, but in fact, she really should put herself first more. She’s always been there for us and has inspired us to be the best we can be. My brother and I don’t want to ever disappoint her! She is also an amazing grandmother to Marlow. I am very thankful for a great family and so grateful to still have my mother.
PM: Eileen – your turn. What kind of person is Nikki? Can you describe her in one word?
EH: It’s impossible to describe her in one word! Nikki is enthusiastic, determined, intelligent, beautiful and very caring. She’s a wonderful mom and daughter.
PM: Eileen, what are you most hopeful for in 2015, aside from continued good health?
EH: I hope for more time to focus on all the things I enjoy most – moments with family and friends, and time to enjoy my hobbies. Reading is a longtime passion – I was an educator for 37 years before retiring in 2011. I also love gardening and travel. I want to spend more time with my granddaughter. And looking beyond 2015, I am extremely hopeful that better treatments can be found for pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, I know too many people who have been diagnosed.
NM: I’ll add that now that I have a daughter, it crosses my mind more often that someone else in our family could get pancreatic cancer if the disease is genetic. In my daughter’s lifetime, I would love to see a cure, or at least an effective treatment, so that future generations don’t have to worry about it.
PM: Nikki, is that the reason you make a monthly donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network?
NM: It is. Being a monthly donor has worked really well for me because it’s easy and hassle-free, and I get an annual statement of my donations. Once I signed up, the donations were automatically charged to my credit card, and I haven’t had to think about it anymore. I know that anything I can do, in whatever amount – whether it’s giving money or my time as a volunteer – goes a long way.
We extend a warm thank-you to all Circle of Hope monthly donors. If you’re interested in more information about the Circle of Hope, please visit www.pancan.org/circle-of-hope.