Diane Schooley-Pettis, a 14-year survivor, and Nichole Velasquez, who lost two family members, share not only a profession but a penchant for helping others.
Nichole Velasquez taught sixth-grade science for 22 years and today is an instructional coach. Diane Schooley-Pettis, Ph.D., is a finance professor and associate dean of the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. She has been in education for 28 years.
Sure, the two share a passion for the teaching profession, but beyond that, educating people about pancreatic cancer is also extremely important to both of them, since education leads to more public awareness of the disease. They are volunteer leaders in the Boise Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – Diane is the Community Engagement Chair and Nichole is the Media Relations Chair.
That a big part of the organization’s mission is ensuring patients and families have comprehensive information about the disease is of particular importance to Diane – a 14-year pancreatic cancer survivor.
“Getting quality information to patients and their doctors is vital,” she said. “I greatly appreciate that this organization, through its PanCAN Patient Services service, is spreading the word about symptoms, treatment options and especially clinical trials.”
Nichole lost her mother in 2004 to pancreatic cancer, and her aunt (her mom’s sister) was diagnosed 10 years later – she lived one year past diagnosis. Nichole said there is satisfaction in knowing that through volunteering she is doing something positive in the pancreatic cancer community despite her losses.
“Instead of sitting back, I can try to help families write a different narrative than mine – one filled with hope. And I enjoy the relationships I have with people who have walked my same path…people who understand what it’s like to have pancreatic cancer strike your family.”
For Diane, seeing Nichole and others give so much of their time is inspiring. “This community of volunteers that we have – these are people I wouldn’t know if I weren’t involved with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, so it means a lot to have volunteer heroes who are making a difference for patients today and also those who will come after us.”
The pair’s chosen professions (which many would also call heroic!) came about when each was younger and saw the importance of education and good teachers. Diane grew up in a tiny town – only 800 people. “I could see that the way out was to go to college and get an education,” she said. “I have always felt that education will make you better in every way.”
Nichole was the first person in her family to graduate from college. “My teachers were my heroes growing up,” she said. “Around high school age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, based on the influence my teachers had on me. I wanted to be that for other kids.”
Diane said one myth that she’d like to dispel about pancreatic cancer is that there is no hope.
“Pancreatic cancer is certainly very serious, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. We are creating more and more hope every day. And one of the things that drives me to volunteer is being able to let patients know this.”
“As a pancreatic cancer survivor, I’m always looking for reasons for why I’m still here, and I think that’s one of the big reasons – to help those who are going through the same thing I did.”
Equally rewarding, Diane said, is seeing more and more survivors each year at PurpleStride Boise, which will take place in just a few days on Sept. 10.
“Survivors at PurpleStride bring a special kind of hope to the event – it’s really good for people to see that.”
In the spirit of this back-to-school season, these educators agree that the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s commitment to disease education and awareness is especially appreciated.
“The approach of giving people good, quality information and then letting them come to the right decision on their own about their next step is what really impresses me,” Diane said. “It’s so true that knowledge is power.”
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