Editor’s note: Our weekly “It Starts with Someone” series takes a turn this month as we focus solely on people who have survived pancreatic cancer for more than a decade. Today, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) volunteer and fundraiser Anggie Becorest shares her 21-year journey with pancreatic cancer. Keep an eye out for more stories from long-term survivors every week in August.
I hadn’t realized the severity of my diagnosis.
It was 1996 and thank goodness Google hadn’t been invented yet. I would have immediately lost it. As it turned out, getting the clinical info without social media gave me a chance to better come to grips with my situation.
Don’t get me wrong – I was terrified. How could this happen to me? I was only 32 and my husband and I were just starting out. Our daughter had just turned 2.
I had been completely healthy and then life threw us this curveball.
My doctor was fantastic. She provided me with a lot of optimism and hope. I was definitely one of the lucky ones. The cancer had not spread, and it was caught early enough where surgery was an option.
Even after surgery, the thought of recurrence weighed heavily on my mind. I didn’t want to talk about ‘it.” I was in denial and tried to live life without that burden. Only my family and a few close friends were aware of my diagnosis. I didn’t want “it” to define me or define how people treated me.
Ten years post-surgery, that feeling of denial turned into survivor’s guilt. It seemed there was an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Public visibility of the disease was brought on with the passing of famous people such as Michael Landon, Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs. This impacted me greatly. I felt selfish for not using my story to provide hope for those who had been diagnosed.
In 2012, shortly after Steve Jobs passed away, I decided to volunteer some time with PanCAN. I participated in my first PurpleStride in 2013, where I publicly told my story for the first time. I was amazed at the amount of support I received from everyone. I became a conduit for those who lost loved ones to contact me and we formed somewhat of an informal support group. I continue to get phone calls and messages multiple times a month from friends and acquaintances, asking if I can speak to a recently diagnosed loved one who is seeking hope for a better outcome than the statistics say.
Being involved in this way has really changed my life and my outlook.
“Find a way; never give up,” and, “Gratitude for what each day brings.”
These are the words I live by.
In 1996, the 5-year survival rate of a patient with pancreatic cancer was 4 percent. Today, more than 21 years later, that number has more than doubled, but it is moving much too slowly. Each year I meet more and more people affected by this disease. Keeping this in mind, I have a few wishes…
- My wish is that we can provide a fighting chance for those struggling to stay ahead of this disease
- My wish is for my friend Rachel to be able see her daughter grow into a beautiful young woman like I’ve had the chance to watch mine
- My wish is for my friend Diane (who was recently diagnosed and whose husband passed away from this disease 10 years ago) to be there for her two girls so they aren’t alone
- And lastly, my wish is for an increased survival rate through early detection and more effective treatments so loved ones don’t have to see their father, mother, brother, sister or friend suffer through the final stages of this heartbreaking disease
— Anggie Becorest, 21-year pancreatic cancer survivor