Nebraskans are encouraged to “wear purple with a purpose” in order to raise awareness about what’s considered the world’s toughest form of cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in Nebraska and in the U.S.
Melinda Thach, a volunteer with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, says she strives to teach more people about the disease and how to spot it.
“People need to be aware of their bodies and pay attention to the symptoms that are sometimes really vague,” Thach says. “It can be a tummy ache in the front, it can be a back ache, it can be changes in stool, it can be things that can be attributed to lots of other things, but if somebody is having all of those together, please call their doctor.”
Other symptoms may include: yellowing skin, weight loss, appetite loss, and a feeling of being full after only eating a little food.
Pancreatic cancer is typically seen as a death sentence as 70% of those who are diagnosed die within a year. Still, Thach says improved awareness may be helping to improve the odds.
“The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer rose this year to 9%,” Thach says. “That is amazing that it is rising after being steady for a long, long time, but it’s still the only major cancer in the single digits and we need to do something to improve that.”
The five-year survival rate has increased by one-percentage point in each of the last three years.
Thach got involved with the program after losing her mother to pancreatic cancer 13 days after she was diagnosed. Some 240 Nebraskans died from pancreatic cancer last year, the state’s number-three cancer killer behind lung and colon cancers.