Roberta Zeigler hadn’t been experiencing anything that she thought signaled pancreatic cancer.
So when she was diagnosed with the disease in 2015 after going to the doctor because of some abdominal discomfort, she was shocked.
Now – showing no evidence of cancer after having surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – Roberta and her daughter, Adrienne, have turned to raising awareness of the disease in their community, particularly among African Americans.
When asked why they got involved in volunteering with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), Adrienne chuckled. “That was me. I’m a very civic-minded person, involved in several organizations in my community.
“Mom was just going to donate to PanCAN, but I said we had to get more involved.”
And thus began a mother-daughter activity that is making a difference.
Roberta, Adrienne and other PanCAN volunteers in the area have been attending health fairs and public events to bring awareness to the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, the importance of listening to your body and the higher incidence of the disease in African Americans.
“As African Americans, we’re impacted disproportionately by a number of health issues, and pancreatic cancer is one of them,” Adrienne said.
Black Americans are at an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. They have the highest incidence rate of pancreatic cancer in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute SEER data.
“Unfortunately, sometimes our community is not aware of all of these tests that they should be getting,” Roberta said.
Adrienne added, “And some of us are scared to go to the doctor because of the legacy of mis-care. Health screenings are important for this population, but you can’t do that for pancreatic cancer – there’s no general screening.
“So it’s important that people know the symptoms, listen to their bodies and go to the doctor if something is wrong. Mom didn’t have any major outward symptoms, but she did have something that was going on that led to her going to the gastroenterologist and then getting the endoscopy and then receiving the diagnosis.”
The pair also noted a significant knowledge gap when it comes to the disease. “A lot of people I talk to haven’t heard anything about pancreatic cancer,” Roberta said.
Adrienne agreed, saying, “When Mom was diagnosed, at least I knew where my pancreas was. A lot of people don’t realize it’s in there, buried in between a bunch of other organs.”
They want people in their community to get to the doctor sooner with any symptoms so the disease can be diagnosed earlier if it is there.
“The information and resources they provide are so valuable,” Roberta said. “I would definitely tell anyone diagnosed to contact PanCAN.”
Roberta was disappointed that she didn’t know about PanCAN’s Patient Services sooner.
After her surgery, though, she did connect with PanCAN and got matched with its Survivor & Caregiver Network volunteers. “It was encouraging to talk to others who had been diagnosed.”
Adrienne and Roberta also appreciate the community they’ve built through their volunteer work. “It doesn’t matter how you came into the organization – everyone is loving and supportive,” Adrienne shared. “Being around these people has given us hope and encouragement.”
Unfortunately, precautions during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have put a hold on the volunteers’ in-person outreach – a key component of their awareness efforts. They hope events can safely restart soon so the group can keep reaching people with their message.
In the meantime?
“Everybody, wear a mask and do the right thing,” Adrienne pleaded.
Roberta chimed in, “Save a loved one’s life.”
And Roberta’s message to others diagnosed with the disease? “Have hope. Don’t give up.”