Houstonians stand tall in fight against pancreatic cancer at PanCAN PurpleStride

Rosie Nguyen Image
Sunday, April 30, 2023
PurpleStride event to be held to raise survival rate of deadly cancer
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The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network hosted 60 PurpleStride events Saturday to help end the world's deadliest cancer, including right here in Houston.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Thousands of Houstonians showed up this weekend to take a big stand against the world's deadliest cancer.

Walkers laced up their sneakers Saturday for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's 2023 PurpleStride at Houston Sports Park.

The event raised more than $323,000 for research that will end the disease, blasting past PanCAN's original $220,000 goal.

ABC13 reporter Rosie Nguyen was there, and heard inspiring stories from so many, including Miss Shirley (pictured below), who shared her own journey as a 7-year survivor of pancreatic cancer.

PHOTOS: 2023 PanCAN PurpleStride in Houston

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The Houston walk was just one of 60 events across the nation Saturday, creating a sea of purple from coast to coast.

ABC13 was proud to serve as a Gold media sponsor for the 2023 PanCAN PurpleStride.

Pancreatic cancer has most recently claimed the lives of prominent figures like longtime JEOPARDY! host Alex Trebek, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and ABC13's iconic consumer reporter, Marvin Zindler.

Experts estimate that 64,000 will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 50,000 people will die in 2023.

James "JR" White is a husband, father, friend, and more. He loves going to concerts with his family, traveling the world, biking 20 to 30 miles daily, and working in real estate. But these are all things he can't do as often anymore.

Two years ago, White was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer, discovered unexpectedly by doctors during an exam for digestive issues.

"There would be months at a time that I never leave the couch," he said. "I would come home from the chemo and sleep for 23 hours a day. When I was awake, I was constantly physically ill. It just wouldn't stop."

White described the painful side effects he had endured since his diagnosis. He has lost weight, developed diabetes, became sensitive to certain smells, experienced frequent nausea, and suffered short-long memory loss.

RELATED: Stage 4 pancreatic cancer survivor shares inspiring story

White and his family found resources, support, and a community through PanCAN. The organization helps educate the public about the disease, fund research, advocate for legislation, host support groups for survivors and caregivers, and connect people to patient services.

Houston PurpleStride co-chairs Stephanie Kroll and Gabrielle Seekely recently told ABC13 how personal this fight is to them. Kroll lost her father to pancreatic cancer in 2002, and Seekely lost hers in 2012. Both were at stage 4 at their diagnosis and only lived for a few months before passing.

"Pancreatic cancer is the third deadliest cancer in the world. It has a 5-year survival rate of just 12%. However, while that sounds really low, last year, it was 11%. When my dad passed away, it was only 1 to 2%. So this is a big deal. The goal is to raise the survival rate to 20% by 2030," Kroll said.

RELATED: 'Jeopardy!' host Alex Trebek releases PSA for pancreatic cancer awareness

"Most people don't even know where their pancreas is. It's in your abdominal cavity, in front and behind your stomach, and in front of your spine," Seekely said. "Symptoms include stomach aches, indigestion, bloating, sudden weight loss, backaches, and jaundice. The disease does not discriminate and unfortunately, it's as diverse as our city."

Experts at John Hopkins Medicine said there is no single diagnostic test that can tell you if you have the disease. Definite diagnosis is typically only done if you have symptoms.

After undergoing a Whipple procedure to remove part of his pancreas in 2021, doctors told White he only has a 12% chance of making it another five years.

However, he and his family remain hopeful. In February 2022, White went into remission after 15 chemo sessions over a year. Since then, there has been no evidence of disease, and his CT scans have yielded promising results.

He will celebrate his 60th birthday in two weeks and hopes to have the strength to get back up on a bike soon.

Now, he and his tribe, called Operation KPCA for "Kick Pancreatic Cancer's (butt)" are focusing on contributing to the advancement of pancreatic cancer research and treatment. White's son carries the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. They've been Houston's top fundraising PurpleStride team for the last two years. So far, they've raised more than $48,000.

"Once you're diagnosed, the clock is ticking. As a survivor, I don't think pancreatic cancer gets the publicity and notoriety that it needs. It needs that education and needs that attention. People need to be aware that this can happen to anybody," said White.

RELATED: 'He is our superhero': How a mother found strength after her son was diagnosed with leukemia

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