Two men became best friends and long-term pancreatic cancer survivors, beating the odds with lots of laughs
“Did we meet on a blind date?” Ralph asked Michael.
“Yeah, that sounds reasonable,” Michael replied jokingly.
Listening to Michael Weinstein and Ralph Cheney speak, you’d think they’ve been best friends for decades. Witty banter coupled with enough laughing to make you sore, they’re quick to tell you they’re “brothers from another mother.”
However, their “bromance” began just a few years ago on the Metro in Washington D.C., headed to Capitol Hill for the 2010 National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. They quickly realized after meeting that they shared not only the same disease, but same zest for life and laughter.
At the time, Weinstein was the volunteer Advocacy Day state leader for our New Jersey affiliate and Cheney’s wife Mariann was the Advocacy Day state leader for New York.
Cheney’s tumor was discovered after his surgery in late 2004. He was diagnosed with stage III ductal adenocarcinoma. He suffered a stroke a week later which prolonged his recovery.
Just two days after Thanksgiving 2005, Weinstein experienced severe pain, which was diagnosed as diverticulitis. At that time doctors also found a tumor on his pancreas. Later in 2007 after an extensive two-day surgery, he had a bad reaction to a blood transfusion and suffered a heart attack leaving him in a coma for eight days. His hospital stay lasted 50 days.
More than a decade later, both survivors are using their experience to make a difference in the pancreatic cancer community.
When asked what they admired about each other, their responses were identical: dedication, a fighting spirit and the love they have for others. And those are common qualities very apparent in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
Since volunteering with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, they’ve developed lasting relationships with fellow survivors, elected officials (even receiving proclamations!) and are avid supporters of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, which was signed into law in 2013.
“Getting the law passed brought a lot of people together,” Cheney said. “We were fighting for something that is truly in our hearts.”
Earlier this year pancreatic cancer surpassed breast cancer as the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the country with a five-year survival rate of just 8 percent.
“Not a lot of people have the longevity that we’ve been blessed with,” said Weinstein. “We’ve been through this battle so we know what others are going through.”
These two best friends will soon see each other again at the 2016 National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day on June 21 to help raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research, making the impossible possible, with lots of laughs along the way. Learn more at www.pancan.org/ad2016.
More about Ralph Cheney and Michael Weinstein
Cheney, 68, is an Army veteran who served two tours in Vietnam. He worked as a supervisor at a medical device company until his diagnosis. Subsequent to his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, he was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. He and his wife Mariann, are twelve-year volunteers with the organization and are both Community Advocates for the Hudson Valley in New York. Ralph has two children and three grandchildren from a previous marriage. They live with their four Labrador retrievers in Monticello, New York.
Weinstein, 67, was a CPA before he went on disability and subsequently retired and now spends much of his time in his volunteer role with our organization. He and his wife Nancy live in Millburn, New Jersey and will be celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary in July. They have two daughters and one dog.
Weinstein volunteers at a local cancer center and synagogue a few days a week. Cheney is a qualified volunteer for peer-to-peer and vet-to-vet support for veterans who suffer from PTSD and aides in suicide prevention.
Both have received extensive recognition and awards for their volunteer efforts.