Becca Sandler, 16, of Philadelphia, was among the hundreds of purple-clad advocates in Washington, D.C., last week for the 10th anniversary of National Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. Her mom, Alison Williams, who is Sandler’s “someone,” was there too.
“It was amazing to see so many pancreatic cancer survivors,” Sandler said. “Especially the gentleman who has survived 17 years.
“I sometimes worry that my mom might not be at my high school graduation, so it was reassuring to see people who are still thriving with this disease…and to know that it is possible.”
Sandler’s mother was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer two years ago at 50 years old. Her doctor had delivered the news over the phone as Sandler was getting ready for her eighth grade graduation ceremony, and as her older sister was preparing to graduate from high school.
“She chose not to tell my sister and me right away,” Sandler said. “She wanted us to enjoy our celebrations.”
This decision was fitting for a mother who has a history of making sure everyone else is OK before thinking of herself.
“She’s a very caring person,” Sandler added.
Her mom, she said, had noticed continuous back pain prior to diagnosis but thought she had pulled a muscle at work. A hardworking person who “always became the ‘manager’ at her jobs, even if she wasn’t technically a manager…she likes to get things done,” Sandler said that Williams was alarmed when her doctor ordered a CT scan. (A good friend had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just a few months before, and Williams remembered that diagnosis coming after a CT scan.)
Williams’ initial treatment regimen was rigorous and harsh, but because she was otherwise healthy, her doctors felt it was the best shot for shrinking the tumors.
“It was a strange time,” Sandler said. “It was weird to be the one suddenly taking care of her.” Today the tumors are dormant, and Sandler is grateful for this positive news, as well as her mom’s unwavering upbeat attitude.
“She always says, ‘I’m here today and taking things day by day.’ Her attitude helps our whole family. She is always up and about doing something, whether it’s getting me ready for school or cleaning the house.”
Though Williams is not working now, she is enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program. Her goal, once she’s certified, is to teach yoga to hospital patients. It’s something she benefited from during her treatment, Sandler said.
Also beneficial for her mom was being at Advocacy Day and meeting other people who have faced pancreatic cancer. Sandler believes voicing her position to her elected officials will make a difference.
“I think we made an impression on our senators and representative. They have the disease stats on their desk, but Advocacy Day shows them that pancreatic cancer isn’t just numbers. There are real people fighting to survive, and they can’t ignore that.
“In one of my meetings, I said, ‘You get to look at the stats and then go home and be with your family, but I have to go home and watch my mom get chemo.’ ”
Sandler plans to continue her activism so she can make sure the statistics continue to improve.
“I take after my mom in that way. I don’t like to wait around; I like to get things done. It feels good to see that progress is being made, people are surviving, the statistics are improving, and my mom is doing better than ever.”
Do you have a “someone?” If so, join Sandler and thousands like her, and get involved locally today.